Re: SPACE: Roton in New Scientist

Michael M. Butler (
Thu, 13 Aug 1998 16:47:29 -0700

At 15:35 8/13/98 -0700, you wrote:
>Just popped in to look at this group today, and I'm surprised to find
there was a lively discussion on the Roton thread.
>I asked Bob Truax about the Roton (motor) concept about a year ago, and he
said "Oh, Goddard tried that. It blew up.".
>Bob ran the (successful) project that developed the JATO rockets for PBY
aircraft around 1940.

Lots of people have blown rockets up.

Minor points: weren't the fielded systems simple solid boosters? And I seem to recall that the hypergolics were (/are) generally pretty wicked both to handle and to deal with if you got any on you (RFNA, UDMH, N04...).

<much snippage of Bob Truax's credentials demonstrating why he's a tall figure>

>So. To paraphrase: He says that getting into orbit is not a technological
problem. The technology was solved decades ago. To get into orbit cheaply, you need to build your rockets Big and Dumb. This is called the Big Dumb Booster concept, the result of the 1963 Aerojet General study. It has never been tried. The principles are:

<snip again>

Yep, too big, too dumb. My outsider's view is that it's not sexy or leading edge and you have to "think Russian" (these are of course cognate). Plus the PR (/perceived environmental) impact of a *BIG* boom can be daunting, and booms will inevitably happen if you take this approach. This is hard to handle for the nation that only *used* to blow rockets up... well... sort of. Also, <sarcasm on> whaddawe want a big booster for? Nobody *DOES* anything in space that size. <sarcasm off>

So of course they never will. People go for the grapes that they think are nearest. And you know the old expensive payload-zero defects-cost overruns cycle still puts engineers' kids through college, so why should they beef?

Nope, getting into orbit is not a technological problem. It is a problem of will (and a failure of nerve, in Clarke's sense). But if/when a sufficient base of arbitrary technology exists, something like a space gadabout just might become as much of a terror as the old horseless carriage. "Bring it on!" :)

And space gadabouts are not supertankers. But they both serve human purpose.

<Mr. Witham continues:>

>(My thoughts, not Bob's:)
>Relevant to the current discussion, startup rocket projects constantly
repeat the same old mistakes. Someone wrote a book about it. The general pattern is this. First, to get funding, they convince investors and the public that the solution is a new technology. Then, they spend the money, get part way through developing a nifty idea, go belly up. Almost any idea can be made to work, and as for the Roton concept, this project is a classic. Several nifty new ideas in one project. Of course it can be made to work, with enough money. That is not the question. The question is, can it be made to work before the money runs out?

<I reply:>

Having lived and too often breathed Silicon Valley, permit me to remark that this is a salient feature of much of life here.

Rub the serial numbers off and it's happening in Hollywood too, though with variations (not every movie solution is a new technology, but every movie asks your final question during its production).

>- PW
>By the way: if you want me to actively engage in a conversation, please
email me so I know to pay attention.

SO let it be written; SO let it be done.


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