Aviation Week & Space Technology calls them “The Texas Garage Gang.” The first chronological news item on the company’s straightforward website (www.armadilloaerospace.com) is dated October 4, 2000, and deals with such homely things as ham radios, off-the-shelf components, and the handling of hydrogen peroxide fuel. A recent entry (January 22, 2011) describes a new, large alcohol/liquid oxygen sounding rocket dubbed “Stig”, for an astronaut-wannabe character on the British automobile reality series Top Gear.

Support comes from NASA, partly, and from commercial firms like Nvidia. Look for a launch early this year from New Mexico’s Spaceport America at Truth or Consequences (on Highway 25 north of Las Cruces). That’s also the venue for coming SpaceShipTwo passenger flights by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic operation.

Armadillo is working toward suborbital passenger flights of its own, using a vertical-takeoff/vertical-landing design, like something you’d associate with Buck Rogers. Eventually, they want to push into orbit with the same type of craft, as distinct from a more trendy spaceplane architecture. An adventure tours outfit, Space Adventures, with whom Armadillo has an exclusive agreement, plans to charge $102,000 for flights on their hardware. (Photo: The reusable sounding rocket that Armadillo calls "the tube rocket" under construction. Courtesy of Armadillo Aerospace.)