Rotary Rocket Company of Redwood Shores, California revealed its revised design for the Roton, a rocket-helicopter hybrid vehicle. Using a combination of oxygen and JP4 fuel, the Roton will take off using aerospike engines. It will deliver its payload to low earth orbit. Then it will return to Earth engine-first. At a certain altitude, propellers will extend from the nose of the Roton, and the vehicle will return to the launch site in a manner similar to helicopters. Landing gear will extend, and the vehicle will softly land.
Gary Hudson, President of Rotary Rockets, notes that the first Roton will be about the same size as McDonnell Douglas' Delta Clipper Experimental (DC-X) vehicle. The Gross Lift Off Weight ( GLOW) is about 225,000 pounds. It will carry 2-3 tons of payload, primarily communication satellites. They plan to scale future versions up to the 20 ton class. The first vehicle will be designed for 20-30 flights, while later versions will be able to fly hundreds of times. The company's goal is to build and operate these vehicles until such time as others buy and operate them.
The second public announcement came from Pioneer RocketPlane Company of Lakewood, Colorado. Charles Laurer, Vice President of Business Development, showed reporters and the public the new design for the Pathfinder rocket plane. In order to protect the two F-100 turbofan jet engines from the heat of reentry, they have been repositioned to the top and aft of the plane, where there is less heat. Pioneer just won a $2 million contract with NASA's Bantam Rocket Program, which is for promoting the development of small reusable launch technologies. Pioneer will be competing for another $30 million in contracts, to eventually reach their goal of $100 million in funding. They plan to fly in 1999.
Manned by a crew of two, the Pathfinder vehicle is designed to take off like a regular jet plane, using the 6000 foot runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base. At an altitude of 25,000 feet, the Pathfinder will rendezvous with a tanker plane and be fueled with liquid oxygen. After separating from the tanker, the Pathfinder will ignite its RD-120 rocket engine and zoom to a sub-orbital altitude of 80 miles. At this point, the Pathfinder's cargo bay will open up. A satellite boosted by a Thiokol Star engine will place it into proper orbit. The Pathfinder itself will close its cargo doors, and return to its launch site under power.
As well as the new vehicle design, Mr. Lauer announced that banker and former member of the US Air Force, Richard Freytag, has joined the Pioneer Team. Also announced was an agreement with Thiokol for building the Star booster motors.
AWST reports that Sen. John Glenn (D.-Ohio), the first American to orbit the Earth (in 1961), has a "..burning desire to go back to space..." NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin is reported to be considering his request to fly again. Glenn is 76 years old, and he would become the oldest person to visit space.
It is very unlikely that there will be any health problems due to his age, provided that he's in normal health - since going to orbit and living in zero G is not stressful. However, NASA is not allowed to carry people other than professional staff related to the work of each mission on board the space shuttle, and it seems unlikely that US taxpayers will wish to pay for his trip. Now if some company was only offering tourist flights... -SFJ
Company Press Release
Steamboat Springs, CO - SpaceDev chairman James William Benson today announced that Roy Tucker of Tucson, AZ became the first winner in the $5,000 "Benson Prize for the Amateur Discovery of Near Earth Asteroids" competition.
The Benson Prize was announced at the American Astronomical Society meeting June 10, and Mr. Tucker, using a camera-equipped 14-inch telescope in his backyard, became the second amateur to ever discover a near earth asteroid, and the first winner of one of the ten $500 Benson Prizes.
Mr. Tucker began looking for earth-approaching objects in May, and was pleased to find a near earth asteroid so quickly. Mr. Tucker plans to use the Benson Prize money to help buy a better camera for his telescope.
Mr. Tucker first spotted the object on June 28. Additional observations came from observers in the Czech Republic, Australia, Italy and the U.S. By the morning of July 2 the orbit computations were considered secure. The object was designated 1997 MW1. The discovery was confirmed by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center on July 3.
SpaceDev, LLC is a commercial space exploration company, and will announce in September details of its premier venture, the first unmanned spacecraft to another planetary body. Mr. Benson, a geologist and native of Kansas City, sold his computer companies in McLean, VA in 1995, and founded SpaceDev early this year. For more information about the Benson Prize, and how to discover asteroids, contact Diane Murphy, 703.893.0740 or visit www.skypub.com/benson/prize.html.