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Rotary Rocket Company's Roton-C

The Roton C-9 was under development by Rotary Rocket Company to provide launches of satellites to low Earth orbit. The SSTO Roton C-9 vehicle was designed for vertical takeoff and landing. The 19.5-meter high Roton C-9 is powered by a cluster of several engines derived from the Fastrac engine developed by NASA. The cargo compartment is positioned in the middle of the vehicle between the LOX tank (in the nose) and the kerosene tank (above the engine). Following ascension to LEO, the Roton C-9 deploys a payload and performs a de-orbit burn. The vehicle can remain on-orbit for up to 72 hours.

The Roton C-9 was cone-shaped with the rotor blades folded flat against the exterior. The vehicle uses the rotor blades to control the vehicle descent after atmospheric re-entry. Each blade is powered by small hydrogen peroxide/methanol rocket motors on the blade tips that power the rotor. The Roton touches down vertically under the control of its two-person crew. The vehicle is designed to be serviced by a small team of ground personnel, and Rotary Rocket is targeting turnaround times between flights of 24 hours or less. The Roton also has been designed to be able to return to Earth with the cargo bay fully loaded.

A new design of the Roton was unveiled at the Cheap Access To Space (CATS) Symposium in July 1997. Rotary Rocket planned to use a vertical take-off-and-landing vehicle utilizing a rocket powered ascent and a helicopter-like, unpowered rotor for the descent and landing. The Roton-C concept was based on using centrifugal pumping of propellant by spinning the combustion chambers and using a rotor to land the vehicle instead of engine thrust, parachutes, or fixed wings. Earlier Roton concepts would have employed the rotors during the ascent as well.

The first test flights were planned for 1999, with operations beginning in 2000. Rotary Rocket Company initially planned offer launch services themselves but hopes to build a fleet of vehicles to be sold to other companies to provide launch, cargo delivery, and space tourism services. The company was seeking investors after an initial round of fundraising raised about $6 million.

Rotary Rocket Company developed and tested many of its systems throughout 1998, including the rotor blade-tip engines and the rotor assembly. In addition, the company began construction of its manufacturing and flight operations facility in June 1998 at the Mojave Civilian Test Flight Center, and completed the construction in January 1999.

During 1998, Rotary Rocket Company tested some of the systems for the proprietary RocketJet engine. The RocketJet engine was originally intended as the powerplant for the Roton C-9 vehicle. But, in June 1999, Rotary Rocket elected to proceed with development using the Fastrac engine variant in order to "permit the Roton development program to be concluded more rapidly. Development of the RocketJet engine was deferred.

In 1999, construction of the Roton Atmospheric Test Vehicle (ATV) was completed and flight testing began. The ATV is a full-scale prototype vehicle without the main propulsion system, designed to perform approach and landing tests. During July through October 1999, the ATV completed four test flights demonstrating the vehicle control characteristics needed for the Roton landing profile, including hovering and low altitude forward movement.

With the collapse of the LEO launch market following Iridium's bankruptcy, Rotary Rocket found it increasingly difficult during 1998 and 1999 to raise the US$ 150 million it needed to continue funding its development programme. In June 1999 the company laid off 80% of its 70 workforce.

In December 2000 Kern County's treasurer-tax collector began action to recover the back tax after Rotary Rocket failed to pay its debt in August. If the payment is not made by 01 January 2001 the tax debt would increase to US$ 38,000 because of late payment penalties. The company also owed US$ 22,453 in unpaid rent to the East Kern Airport District, the operator of the Mojave Airport.

In February 2001 Rotary Rocket ceased operation and began selling off its facilities. Rotary auctioned off its facility at the Mojave Airport. For sale to the highest bidder were tools, computers, testing equipment, office equipment and a three-story office/hanger and rocket assembly building.

In the three and a half years since its inception, Rotary Rocket had constructed and hover tested an early version of its hybrid helicopter/rocket launch vehicle. Funding has been provided by individual private investors but more money is required to continue development and for full flight testing was not been forthcoming.

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Page last modified: 21-07-2011 00:48:17 ZULU