Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace is to conduct tethered hover tests of a prototype vehicle with a 2,000lb-thrust (8.9kN) liquid oxygen/ethanol rocket and 914mm (36in) diameter fuel tank later this month in preparation for a short flight expected in April.

If successful, the prototype will form the basis of a craft with four 3,000lb-thrust engines and a 1.6m-diameter fuel tank that could carry out a suborbital flight. This vehicle could be flight tested at New Mexico’s planned $225 million south west regional spaceport or from private land east of Dallas, Texas.

“We’ve been working with ethanol for about two years and it’s working really well,” says Armadillo vice president Neil Milburn, adding four engines give a craft greater stability when landing. The team has been in contact with the US Federal Aviation Administration about testing locations and possible waivers of the 15s engine burn-time limit on vehicles without permits.

Milburn and his team, backed by funding from software entrepreneur and Armadillo president John Carmack, aim to win the $2 million NASA/X Prize Foundation Centennial Challenge lunar landing analogue prize (Flight International, 21-27 February). Scheduled for October, the challenge could require a vertical take off, 2-2.5min flight and vertical landing, followed by another vertical take-off and 2-2.5min flight. NASA may allow refuelling between flights.

Source: Flight International