>|| TechWeb News
>|| Thursday March 11, 1999
>|| A CMP Service
>=== The Scoop ===============================
>Getting The Internet Off The Ground And Into Orbit
>By WAYNE RASH
>InternetWeek contributor Alyson Behr looked at the pilot seated next to
>her as he described the proper operation of the spacecraft in which she
>was seated. Behr, a world-class aerobatic pilot in her own right, was
>seated in the command seat of the Roton ATV, a new type of spacecraft
>that's about to revolutionize commercial spaceflight, and in the
>process, the Internet.
>Behr studied the control console of the Roton while she placed her hand
>on the stick and her feet on the rudder pedals of the spacecraft. The
>company's pilot was describing the landing sequence of the craft, a
>process that's unique because this spaceship lands like a helicopter.
>But that's not the only thing that's unique about the Roton.
>In its efforts to make the Roton significantly more reliable and less
>expensive than any other spacecraft, the Rotary Rocket Co.
>(www.rotaryrocket.com) has completely changed the way spacecraft work
>and how they are designed. For example, the Roton was designed over the
>Internet. In fact, the basic concept of low-cost, single-stage
>spaceflight was conceived on the Internet, and when it's finished, one
>of the first missions of the Roton will be to launch the low-orbit
>satellites of the next decade that will support the next generation of
>wireless Internet communications.
>The significant cost of putting satellites into orbit has been one of
>the major barriers to cheap wireless connectivity for a couple of years
>now. Once, the cost of the satellites themselves created an additional
>barrier, but as today's specialized communications satellites grow in
>number, their individual costs drop. Now, major corporations can afford
>dozens. But for global Internet access, there must be hundreds of
>satellites in orbit around the Earth.
>Unfortunately, the cost of launching these communications satellites
>hasn't dropped enough to make them affordable to any but the most
>wealthy companies. Rotary Rocket wants to change that by cutting the
>cost of getting into orbit by a factor of something like a thousand.
>To accomplish such a dramatic cost savings, the Roton must be more than
>just reliable. It must operate with a cost structure similar to a
>commercial airliner. It must fly out of airports, land at airports, and
>have a ground crew that numbers in the dozens instead of the tens of
>thousands. Designing such a vehicle took a lot of engineering talent,
>and in many cases, these were engineers who didn't want to spend their
>lives at Rotary Rocket's test site in Mojave, Calif.
>To satisfy the requirements of the engineers, as well as of the company
>officials located at the Redwood City, Calif., headquarters,
>Internet-based collaboration became a necessity. The project wouldn't
>wait while packages were sent by Federal Express.
>Sending a fax might be fast enough, but performing engineering by fax
>isn't a good solution, and it doesn't generate electronic copies of
>documents and drawings.
>One company official explained that the Internet became integral to
>Rotary Rocket's collaborative operation. They simply could not have
>designed the Roton as quickly or as inexpensively any other way.
>The role of the Internet is deep in the culture of the spacecraft
>designers. Years ago, small groups of scientists and engineers began to
>question the necessity of building huge rockets that were simply
>disposed of after their first use. Such waste ensured that access to
>space would remain expensive, and would remain beyond the reach of most
>people. So they began discussions over the Internet to come up with a
>different way. Eventually those discussions led to experiments, and
>ultimately those experiments led to Rotary Rocket and its Roton.
>Now, the company and its rocket are about to return the favor by
>helping to launch the satellites that will make the Internet affordable
>to everyone. First, of course, there will be some test flights. Those
>initial attempts will allow the craft to rise only a few inches or
>feet, but later the Roton ATV will fly thousands of feet into the air.
>Then in a few months, a new Roton will be built, and it will fly into
>Once that happens, the circle will be complete. The spaceship that was
>created in the minds of Internet users, and designed through
>collaboration on the Internet, will take on a new role in creating a
>new part of the Internet. While it's still a few months off, it won't
>be long before the Roton rises above Mojave, Calif., to help create a
>new stage in Internet communications.
>Wayne Rash is managing editor/technology at InternetWeek. He can be
>reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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