1975 OTRAG


OTRAG was founded in 1975 by the German aerospace engineer Lutz
Kayser. Its goal was to develop, produce, and operate a radically
different, low cost, satellite launch vehicle.

The OTRAG rocket was intended to be an inexpensive alternative to
the European rocket Ariane and the NASA space shuttle. Kayser and a
private consortium of six hundred European investors financed the
development and production of the OTRAG satellite launch vehicle.
Dr.Ing Kurt H. Debus served as Chairman of the Board of OTRAG after his
retirement as director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and Dr. Wernher
von Braun served as scientific adviser to Kayser.

In the face of doubts by Debus and von Braun, Kayser chose in 1975
to set up testing and launch facilities in Shaba, Zaire (now Katanga
Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Debus and von Braun
were concerned about the possibility of Zairian acquisition of missile
technology from the facilities. Kayser decided to proceed despite their
opposition, and testing began at the site in 1977.

Political pressure to halt the company’s operations mounted quickly.
France and the Soviet Union were historically opposed to German
long-distance rocket development, and pressured the Congolese
government into closing down the development facility in 1979.
Immediately afterwards, Presidents Giscard d’Estaing of France and
Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union convinced the West German
government to cancel the OTRAG project and close down its German
operations. In 1980, OTRAG moved its production and testing facilities
to a desert site in Libya. A series of successful tests were conducted
at this site beginning in 1981.

Rocket design

OTRAG was a design quite different from conventional multi-stage
rockets. The OTRAG design used parallel stages assembled from parallel
tanktubes with flat bulkheads. The rockets were designed to carry loads
up to two tons, the then usual weight of a communications satellite,
into a geostationary orbit. It was planned to later increase the
capacity to ten tons or more using multiple identical modules.

The rocket was to consist of individual pipes, each 27 cm in
diameter and six meters long. Four of these pipes would be installed
one above the other resulting in a 24 meter long fuel and oxidizer tank
with a rocket engine at the lower end. The fuel was intended to be
kerosene with a 50/50 mixture of nitric acid and dinitrogen tetroxide
as an oxidiser. Ignition was provided by a small quantity of furfuryl
alcohol injected before the fuel, which ignites hypergolically
(immediately and energetically) upon contact with the nitric acid. To
simplify the design, pumps were not used to move the fuel to the
engines, instead the fuel tanks were only 66% filled, with compressed
air in the remaining space to press propellants into the ablatively
cooled combustion chamber. Thrust control is by partially closing the
electromechanical propellant valves. Pitch and yaw control can thus be
achieved by differential throttling. In principle this is extremely
reliable and cheap in mass production.

The modular design was intended to result in a large cost reduction
due to economies of scale. The CRPU-based satellite launching rocket
was estimated to cost approximately one tenth of conventional designs.
Automated production processes for all components would reduced labor
cost from 80% to 20% and remove the justification for reusability of
spent stages.

Controversies and future outlook

Only a few political controversies are known concerning OTRAG
because of concerns of neighbors of Zaire and Libya about the dual use
potential of rockets. A full orbital launch vehicle was never
assembled. Modules were flight tested in Zaire and Libya. 6000 static
rocket engine tests and 16 single stage qualification tests were made
to prove the concept as feasible.

The German minister of foreign affairs at that time, Hans Dietrich
Genscher, is said to have finally stopped the project under pressure
from France and the Soviet Union, and West Germany joined the
co-financed “European rocket” Ariane project, which made the OTRAG
project unnecessary and eliminated political entanglements of a still
divided Germany in the early 1980s.

No government was interested at that time in reducing costs, and
commercial satellite operators had no choice but to accept the high
launch cost. It is estimated that this technology would achieve
transport cost into Low Earth orbit of approximately 1000$/lb payload
in contrast to present cost greater than 10000$/lb.

It remains to be seen if Lutz Kayser can convince private investors
that now the time is ripe to complete this venture. The necessary US$
100 Million for the inventions and technological breakthroughs in
rocket technology have been paid for in the last 30 years and are a
solid foundation to proceed to CRPU mass production and clustered
flights to qualify stage separation and orbital insertion for a 3-stage

It is presently not known if and with whom Lutz Kayser is
negotiating joint ventures; however a NASA Commercial Orbital
Transportation Services announcement stipulates a 50% US National
ownership in vendor companies like von Braun Debus Kayser Rocket
Science LLC, DE (BDKRS). This would force Lutz Kayser,a German citizen,
to sell at least 50% of his shares to Americans.

See also

  • OTRAG Rocket

External links

  • http://www.bernd-leitenberger.de/otrag.shtml very explantive article about the OTRAG history (de)
  • http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/otrag.htm (en)

Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OTRAG

Categories: Rocketry | Companies of Germany | Private spaceflight companies

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