2 March 1999
Features - Other (None)
ROTON Rollout Report
Winds of Change in Mojave
by Sam Coniglio
The winds of change blew into the Mojave Airport in southern California today. Hundreds of invited guests and reporters cheered as the ROTON Atmospheric Test Vehicle rolled out of Rotary Rocket Company’s High Bay. The high winds threatened to put a damper on the rollout, but extra water was put in the fuel tanks to keep the all-composite vehicle from having a premature flight test.

At sixty feet tall, the cone shaped vehicle stood on three retractable landing pads. The four bladed helicopter propeller stood out from the top the vehicle, looking like a strange flying cone. The body was painted with the Rotary rocket logo, and the base had the logos of all the contractor companies. The crew cabin holds two, and is encased in a bubble like shell on the side of the vehicle.

Master of Ceremonies Rick Tumlinson, Space Frontier Foundation Founder and President, praised the ROTON as a “myth shattering machine” which symbolizes rockets as “swords being turned into plowshares”

Mojave Airport Manager Dan Sabovich described how the unique nature of the facility encouraged innovative companies like Rotary and Scaled Composites to set up shop here.

Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation Patricia Grace Smith explained the US Federal Aviation Administration’s role in setting launch and safety guidelines. A new law was passed in Congress this year which allows Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLVs) to land back on the ground, and the FAA is working with Rotary and other RLV companies to develop rules of conduct.

NASA’s Chief Engineer Dr. Daniel Mulville declared that the space agency’s job is to explore space. It is up to private industry to exploit it. He joked that when the Wright Brothers looked for a place with a constant wind to fly their airplane, they should have come to Mojave.

Novelist and Board Director Tom Clancy praised American ingenuity and forward thinking He was wearing an old train engineer’s cap. As the train opened the American West to expansion, the ROTON is a train that will open outer space to expansion. The engineer’s cap was a symbol of those old trains.

Rotary Rocket Company President Gary Hudson, the man of the hour, quipped that he had a nine page speech, but because of the high winds decided not read it. He gave credit to all the pioneers before him, from Tsiolkovsky, to Goddard, and Clarke. He especially thanked Bevin McKinney, the creator of the ROTON design. He praised the Rotary team and its contractors for their superb efforts.

ROTON Rollout - Press Conference

At the press conference, the media grilled Rick Tumlinson, Gary Hudson, and Tom Clancy with compelling questions.

The first question was: will the ROTON put the X-33 out of business? The market will decide the fate of the X-33, Hudson replied, as it will decide the fate of all the new spaceship companies.

Another reporter ask is the ROTON will usher in an era of civilian astronauts? Hudson said that he is training space pilots, not astronauts, on the ROTON. Tumlinson added that Rotary and the new space entrepreneurs are throwing the doors open to public space travel. Hudson agreed, saying it may take ten years, but public space travel is coming.

A reporter asked what drives the Rotary team? Tom Clancy said it was dreams. “America was built by dreamers for dreamers.”

A local reporter asked if the commercial space industry will be a jobs producing industry for the local economy. Hudson emphasized that Rotary Rocket Company is not like a government job. There won’t be thousands of jobs, but as the new space industry develops, there will be new jobs that will slowly grow over time. There are currently 50 people working at Mojave, which will double in size by next year.

Another reporter asked about Rotary’s finances. Hudson says they raised $30 million so far and are seeking $120 million to finish their development work. The High Bay where the press conference took place cost $1.5 million. The ROTON ATV cost $3 million to build.

The media wondered if the decision to have a human pilot on the ROTON was a practical decision or a romantic notion of flying into space? Hudson replied that the ROTON was designed to be a human-rated vehicle from day one. The failure rate for human piloted vehicles is 1000 times less than that of unmanned vehicles. Humans can adapt to any contingency, computers cannot. Hudson said, “We won’t be saying ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ because there will be no Houston.”

What is the test flight schedule? Hudson says the first tests will begin this month and will continue during the year. Next year, the orbital vehicle will be rolled out. After tests of the new vehicle, the first suborbital flights could take place near the end of 2000. The ROTON ATV has an on board simulation program which will be updated after each test, so the pilots can learn from each flight.

What does Rotary think about the competition with the other new spaceship companies? Hudson says he welcomes the competition.

Tom Clancy was asked why he chose Gary Hudson’s company over the other spaceship companies. Clancy replied simply that he knows Gary and he trusts him.

Finally, a reporter asked why Rotary Rocket Company has not pursued contracts with clients like the other new spaceship companies. Hudson replied that his Board of Directors insisted that he build his vehicle first. As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.”
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Sam Coniglio 2 March 1999
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