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Suborbital Research Update: Armadillo Aerospace Flight Paves Way for Science Payloads

Armadillo Aerospace conducted two groundbreaking atmospheric test flights this weekend with their “Mod” vertical-takeoff-vertical-landing rocket, a vehicle familiar to anyone who has followed NASA’s Lunar Lander Challenge competitions.

Flying from their test facility in Caddo Mills, Texas, Armadillo Aerospace first completed a milestone flight under a NASA contract, using methane fuel and liquid oxygen as propellant. Later that same afternoon, a second successful low-altitude flight was performed using a “boosted hop” trajectory of the same type that will be used for suborbital flights to space. The “boosted hop” trajectory allowed the vehicle to maintain a reduced-g environment through closed loop throttle control, a technique that opens the door for future flights for microgravity science, technology development, and education missions.

Professor Steven Collicott of Purdue University was on hand to watch the launch. Professor Collicott has been leading a group of Purdue University students in developing a fluid-mechanics science payload that they plan to fly soon on board the Armadillo Aerospace vehicles under an agreement developed by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

“Seeing the latest Armadillo Aerospace launches in person was a thrill. We’re very excited about the reduced-gravity experiment value of these innovative Armadillo rockets. In addition, there is nothing like seeing a launch live to get people and especially students excited about aerospace technology,” said Professor Collicott. “Armadillo’s eager leadership in moving student sub-orbital rocket experiments from dreams to reality is already impacting the next generation of aerospace engineers in a uniquely powerful way,” Professor Collicott concluded.

The work between Purdue University and Armadillo Aerospace is serving as a pathfinder effort for future integration of other science payloads on commercial suborbital vehicles. Large numbers of research flights on a variety of suborbital vehicles are envisioned under NASA’s Commercial Suborbital Research Program, based at the NASA Ames Research Center, and scientists are eager to begin working with vehicle developers to get experience integrating science payloads with vehicles.

Image Credit: Armadillo Aerospace