John Carmack Is 'Winding Down' His Private Space Business

id Software has quite the legacy, with most of its success thanks in part to John Carmack. With classics such as Quake and Wolfenstein 3D under his belt -- and the large sums of cash that followed their popularity and subsequent sequels -- Carmack has spent much of his time on other exploits, including sending rockets into space via his company Armadillo Aerospace. Unfortunately, after almost 13 years of operation, Carmack is "winding down" the company.

Originally published on Gizmodo

"Cheap" is not a word you could ever associate with "rockets" and "space", a reality that has hit Armadillo after various failed attempts to get their vehicles off the ground -- literally. While Armadillo has snagged a few wins over its lifetime, Carmack still had to pour significant amounts of his own cash into the company to keep it going, a fact he revealed recently to Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar.

Eventually, he realised that Armadillo couldn't sustain itself; he's now in the process of putting the venture into hibernation:

"I laid off most of the full-time employees," Carmack told Ars on Friday. "[We have a few doing some] minor part-time hours, and there's one guy still on there. We still have the building, and I own materials there, and I don’t have the funding to continue development."
"I'm spending [somewhere] in the couple hundred thousand [dollar range], we still have to pay accountants, lawyers, and pay for insurance. We're talking to people and we hope that some money shows up, but if not we'll wind down even further."

It's not all bad news, though. Carmack has found a new interest -- virtual reality, specifically the Oculus Rift. Hopefully, with his attention focused on this maturing technology, it'll get the best chance to succeed at a consumer level, even if his dreams of rockets have to be put on hold.

John Carmack's $8M pipe dream meets reality: Armadillo Aerospace on life support [Ars Technica]

Image: Courtesy of Armadillo Aerospace, licensed under CC 3.0


    Honestly I would rather have a man of his intellect continuing his interest in rockets, even if as a consumer I'm much more interested in the Rift.

      I think part of the problem is that there isn't much call to write an engine from scratch these days, so Carmack is finding it harder to be relevant to the current gaming world and thus less money is coming in.

      He made his money and fame by writing ridiculously fast code and pushing 3D engines as far as they could go.
      Nowadays we have so many options for fully featured engines (Source, Unreal, Unity, Frostbite 2, and more) that it's much cheaper, easier and more efficient to just pick up a proven "old" engine and use that.

      We're also now at a point where we don't need to optimize for hardware like Carmack did with handwritten assembly, so it only takes a "decent" programmer to write an engine these days rather than a genius like Carmack.
      So less innovation, so many free and commercial offerings, and decade+ old engines (the core of the Call of Duty engine is Quake 2 or 3) are still fine for current-gen AAA games (in terms of sales) - but not great for 3D engine innovators whose side-hobby is such an expensive one.

      Maybe he'll come up with something (more) awesome for the Rift? I do hope so.

      Why? How much further can the technology for rockets go? And it's obviously not his first priority.

        Sometimes it takes somebody out of the core of a field to think of and try a new, novel approach.

        Not that there's any obvious sign Armadillo was trying anything particularly novel. For the most part he seems to have been following the standard tactic of putting stuff that burns fast in a tube and light a fire to the bottom of it.

        Although there are some other places to optimise. Why is the main US launch facility at, basically, sea level? It should be somewhere high up so the launch doesn't need to punch through as much atmosphere. Or launch from a magnetic sling. Or use lasers to ignite air for propulsion...

        Let's not do the Orion thing though.

        Surely I'm not the only person to have watch a standard launch and wondered how much fuel is being wasted in the first few seconds just to get the launch stack moving.

          Launching from a high altitude doesn't really gain you too much.
          The issue with launching rockets isn't altitude, it's velocity........ ultimately you have to accelerate the rocket to a high enough velocity to achieve orbit [a little lower than escape velocity].
          As an example, the ISS is at an altitude of 415km and travelling at 7.7km/s, Mt Everest is the highest point on earth at 8.8km. The few percent extra altitude from launch wont mean much at all, as the force of gravity will still be basically the same.
          What does make a considerable difference is being as close to the equator as possible, as the rotation of the earth gives a considerable contribution to the velocity.
          Rockets may seem "wasteful", but really getting any object that large moving requires a significant amount of energy. I guess it just looks worse with rockets because you can see the energy concentrated into a single explosive event on the launch pad.

          Magnetic [or rather, electro-magnetic] launch systems are in concept/development, and hopefully will be a viable launch system in future. However you still require the same amount of energy to launch the same amount of mass up to the same velocity. It is more efficient with an electro-magnetic launch system, however, as you are not accelerating the fuel. Which comes to what is the biggest [unavoidable] inefficiency with rockets..... the need to accelerate the fuel along with the ship.

Join the discussion!