Is the Armadillo Vertical-Lift Spaceship a Viable Tourist Route?

The Armadillo Aerospace Spacebubble concept... mmm, no wings then? (Armadillo Aerospace)
The Armadillo Aerospace Spacebubble concept... mmm, no wings then? (Armadillo Aerospace)

This reminds me of a hilarious Billy Connolly stand-up routine commenting on the perceived safety of passenger aircraft:

Connolly imitates the safety presentation before take-off:
In the highly unlikely event of loss of power in all four engines, then in all probability, we’ll go into the ground like a f***ing dart.

We’d be obliged if you’d wear your life jacket on the way down, this will do you no good at all, but when archiologists find you in 200 years, they’ll think there was a river here!

Billy Connolly on flying (1990) – video not for minors, Billy is known for his “colourful” language!

So with that in mind, let’s consider the Armadillo Aerospace space tourism concept (pictured above). Call me old fashioned, but I’m a little worried about spaceships without wings. Yes, I know we are always sending rockets into space, delivering crew and cargo to the space station. The Soyuz vehicle doesn’t have wings and the cone-like re-entry capsule so many other space vehicles are based on are reliable modes of transport. But there’s something about the “controlled ascent” Armadillo design that makes me a little uneasy (give me a “ballistic ascent” any day!).

Pixel attempting level 1- white tanks are insulated and contain liquid oxygen, grey tanks contain ethanol (Armadillo Aerospace)
Pixel attempting level 1- white tanks are insulated and contain liquid oxygen, grey tanks contain ethanol (Armadillo Aerospace)

Joining Virgin Galactic in New Mexico are the recent winners of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, Armadillo Aerospace. Their vertical lift concept in the shape of “Pixel” is an awesome achievement, showing the world what can be done with a few canisters of liquid oxygen and ethanol.

Flying at the Las Cruces International Airport on October 25th, 2008, Armadillo secured $350,000 from the Lunar Lander Challenge. Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft have proven to be highly dependable vehicles, so why not extend this to spacecraft?

The intent of the Lunar Challenge is for companies to compete and build a mode of transportation suitable for getting around the lunar landscape, and possibly Mars. For short-haul trips and movement of material around rocky terrains, I can’t think of a better solution (although the dust problem resulting from the thrust of the engines might fog up a few spacesuit visors).

However, we now have another concept for space tourism. Armadillo have a concept for getting paying passengers into Earth orbit. This would require an extraordinary amount of fuel for the gradual ascent through the atmosphere. We’re not talking about your traditional rocket technology here, after all, SpaceX has already proven with the first successful flight of Falcon 1 in September that private enterprise can get stuff into orbit. The Armadillo Aerospace Pixel modular design is scalable (as in modules can be added/removed where/when needed), but should there be technical failure during the long trip aloft, far from the space vehicle “going into the ground like a dart”, it will drop like a stone.

I’m sure the “space bubble” design would incorporate a parachute for emergencies (one would hope) or as a method to return to terra firma without a bump, but I’m not sure I’ll be investing $100,000 in the trip. I think I’ll wait a little longer and save for one of the $200,000 Virgin Galactic flights… (give me a set of wings any day!)

Regardless, congratulations to Armadillo Aerospace for winning the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge! I’ll look forward to seeing the vehicle operating on the Moon and Mars in the not-too-distant future…

Image source: io9


3 thoughts on “Is the Armadillo Vertical-Lift Spaceship a Viable Tourist Route?”

  1. It is a mistake. There will soon be loads of competition in this space. Instead, he should be shooting for the moon along with SpaceX and Bigelow. Their role be a moon lander and even carryall. So what would be similar to this role? Freight carrier to altitudes as well as on the poles. You figure that something that is going to withstand the moon’s extreme MUST be capable of working in our extremes. Putting equipment on mountain peeks at 20K feet. How about taking tourists TO mountain peeks, landing them there, let them explore around, and then return. At the south pole, there are peaks there that would be useful to land equipment for observatories. Imagine taking ppl quickly to top of McKinley. NONE of the other systems can do this. Who would be buyers today? Not only tourists, but the military and oil/gas explorers. Helicopters can not do all that. This should be capable of efficently handling equipment and ppl.

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