Tim Furniss/LONDON

Rotary Rocket has postponed further work on its revolutionary Roton launch vehicle following its failure to raise adequate funding for the programme. The company had hoped the Roton would become the world's first resuable single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) rocket in 2002.

The company is developing a new business plan and forming a new management team, after company founder Gary Hudson stepped down as chief executive officer (CEO) to return to aerospace consulting. Helena Hardman, Rotary Rocket's acting CEO, says that Rotary's goal continues to be "safe, low-cost manned spaceflight", but she confirms that a spaceflight by the Roton in 2002 will not take place. Rotary will now take "smaller steps to reach its ultimate goal".

One of Roton's leading investors was the Gold & Appel investment company, which has also invested in MirCorp, the company commercialising the Russian Mir space station. Hudson cites the billion-dollar collapse of the Iridium low Earth orbit satellite system and financial difficulties experienced by other satellite mobile communications systems as making it almost impossible for Rotary to raise further funds.

Rotary had hoped to capture some of the launch market for these and other satellites. The company has been struggling to raise an additional $120 million for some time, resulting in a major reduction in its workforce last year (Flight International, 30 June-6 July 1999).

The Roton got as far as crewed atmospheric test flights using a revolutionary helicopter-type rotor landing system. A 9min 45sec piloted flight reached 75.5ft (23m) altitude and covered a distance of 1,300m (4,260ft) on a runway in Mojave, California, demonstrating the vehicle's landing technique.

In this respect, the Roton was a success - its only failure "being the financing", says Hudson. "People think that it was just a big helicopter, which it was not," he says. Development of the main engine of the Roton and its thermal protection system had not been completed. The Roton was designed to deliver 3,200kg into orbit, and was seen as a potential space tourist carrier.

Source: Flight International