Saturday 7th August 2005, USA

Armadillo Aerospace, a strong contender for the X-Prize carried out one in a series of hover tests of their hydrogen-peroxide monopropellant rocket. Unfortunately, the rocket ran out of fuel at 600 feet (~180m) above ground and was destroyed by the subsequent hard landing.

As a result, procedure will be modified for future tests to try to avoid a situation where the rocket runs out of fuel during hover tests. Ascents will be cancelled unless the engine attains stable thrust (i.e. the catalyser warms up properly) within a specified time. Monopropellant rockets, using hydrogen peroxide, require a catalyst to convert the hydrogen peroxide to oxygen and water. The catalyst operates most efficiently at a temperature of several hundred degrees centigrade, which it is normally expected to reach within a few seconds of contact with the hydrogen peroxide liquid. On the recent test, this did not happen and a large amount of the propellant was lost before the engine began to work and lift the vehicle off the ground. The cost of the loss was estimated at around $35,000, somewhat more than the $20,000 loss experienced by Space Transport Corporation, when they destroyed their Rubicon rocket recently. Armadillo Aerospace published a video clip of the test flight, as they do of most of their tests, which make very interesting viewing. They also publish a wealth of technical detail about the tests and the equipment comprising the rocket vehicles. There was no suggestion that the latest loss will terminate the Armadillo programme.