Credit: courtesy Lutz Kayser
Born: 1939-03-31. Birth Place: Stuttgart.
Kayser started his first serious work as a 17-year old student, founding the Arbeitsgemeinschaft fuer Raketentechnik und Raumfahrt an der Universitaet Stuttgart (Working Group for Rocket Technology and Space Travel at the University of Stuttgart) in 1955. This was the first student group at a German University to be active in rocket propulsion and space flight research - at a time before the first satellites were launched and the feasibility of stable satellite orbits was still disputed in academic circles. Eugen Saenger was the mentor of the group and arranged research grants from the Baden-Wuertemberg Economic Ministry. Kayser received the degree of Diplom-Ingenieur (equivalent to a Master of Science) in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the University of Stuttgart.
Working at the request of the Baden-Wuerttemberg government, Kayser selected the site of the Lampoldshausen Rocket Test Centre. Together with Wolfgang Pilz, he laid out the design for the facility. In the 21st Century it remained the largest such institute in Europe.
Kayser's first major development was a bipropellant satellite attitude control systems (later sold to North American Rocketdyne and the US Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, Edwards AF Base). He also collaborated with the Rocket Engine Division of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in connection with the Saturn-IB clustered engine concept. Kayser developed the first ablative combustion chamber for the H-1 engine, later tested in firings at Huntsville. This was a first step towards his concept of parallel clustering of low-cost ablative engines. Further work on the idea was supported by von Braun and jointly financed by NASA and the German Ministry of Scientific Research. Kayser founded Technologieforschung GmbH (TF) as a commercial spin-off to handle these and other contracts.
Kayser invented, developed, and tested the TIROC rocket engine (Tangential Injection and Rotational Combustion). It was the world's smallest thruster burning Monomethylhydrazine and Nitrogen tetroxide. It delivered 1 newton thrust (0.2 lbf) with a minimum burning time of 1 milliseconds and a demonstrated maximum burning time of 1 million seconds (11 days). The valves had response times of under 1 millisecond and were capable of more than 1 million cycles at a 6 sigma confidence level. Kayser also developed one of the first capillary action gas-liquid separation systems. This guaranteed positive liquid flow from propellant tanks to the rocket engines in zero-gravity. Future applications were high performance satellite and space vehicle attitude control systems.
The first pan-European launch vehicle program was the European Launcher Development Organization's Europa I of the 1960s. This medium lift vehicle consisted of a British first stage (Blue Streak), a French second stage (Veronique), and a German third stage. After several attempts without a single successful launch, the German Government asked Kayser to investigate. Explosions always occurred shortly after cutoff of the French second stage and before ignition of the German third stage. Kayser had just finished assisting Professor Argyris of Stuttgart University in developing the world's first finite element computation method for solution of statics and dynamics of structures (ASKA).
Applying this dynamic simulation to the combined second-third stage ELDO- launch vehicle before separation, and following exhaustive evaluation of all telemetry data Kayser concluded:
Thereafter Kayser's TF received German Government contracts to study and analyze NASA's proposed Space Shuttle project. It soon became clear to Kayser that during the first two years of development too many conflicting US Government requirements were incorporated into the design. He also found that industry desires to sell their respective technologies forced incompatible features together. Solid propellant boosters increased cost. Wings twice as large as necessary for NASA made the delta-winged shuttle orbiter less safe than a lifting body design. Based on Kayser's recommendation the German Government stopped participation in that program. It took NASA 25 years to reach the same conclusion - that the Space Shuttle was inherently flawed and needed a successor as soon as possible.
It was clear that governments had a hard time finding researchers and engineers for impartial assessment of large, expensive and long term space projects. Analysis of such large systems required a very wide knowledge of all scientific fields with decades of experience and an independent view. Kayser had these abilities and as a result became a consultant to NASA, DARPA, USAF, and NRO in formulating future US space programs.
In the early 1970's Willy Brandt's Ministry of Science and Technology solicited a contract for demonstration of launch vehicle technology an order of magnitude cheaper and more reliable than existing launchers. Kayser's research company TF won the contract and developed a radically new rocket technology, making more than 20 inventions in the process.
Kayser's concept involved the parallel clustering of large numbers of identical propellant tank and rocket engine modules. This allowed the application of mass production techniques as used in the automobile industry. This in turn resulted in cost reduction by a factor of 10. This breakthrough and the static testing in of prototype modules at Lampoldshausen stirred concern in the competitive aerospace industry. The established space launch companies were accustomed to making easy guaranteed profits through high cost plus fixed fee government contracts.
In order to exploit this low-cost rocket technology on a commercial basis Kayser founded OTRAG (Orbital Transport und Raketen AG). It was the world's first commercial launcher development, production and launch company.
Wernher von Braun and Kurt Debus, the leading managers of American rocketry, were so enthusiastic about the project that they joined the team after their retirement from NASA. Their contribution was important and helped to introduce lessons learned from earlier programs. Von Braun introduced the concept of parallel clustering of tanks and engines with his Saturn I design and had shown the way towards the low-cost breakthrough 20 years earlier. However, both rocket pioneers were in doubt whether this technology should be flight tested in developing countries because of the possibility that it would be misused for weapons. Kayser optimistically hoped he would be able to limit the technology to commercial satellite launchings. Kayser was proven wrong and suffered heavy losses as a result.
International controversy erupted when Kayser conducted suborbital test flights from launch ranges in the Congo and Libya. 14 suborbital test flights proved the concept and led to a 100% qualification of the technology and the verified the extremely low production cost. However Soviet president Brezhnev and French president Giscard d'Estaing applied heavy political pressure on the German government to stop the project. After a total investment of $ 150 million, OTRAG had to terminate production in Germany. Production was relocated to the launch site in Libya. This in turn led to Libyan military circles eyeing the facilities as a means of obtaining military rocket technology. OTRAG's production and launch range equipment were illegally confiscated, as had happened to the foreign oil industry a decade earlier. All attempts by Kayser to solve the problem were futile. Without Kayser's know-how the Libyans were able to conduct only a few test launches with the stolen equipment. After ten years of desultory testing the Libyan program came to an end.
As of 2005, Kayser was actively searching for partners to fund an OTRAG production facility in the United States and to apply his unique low-cost technology to the requirements of the future American space program. He founded von Braun Debus Kayser Rocket Science LLC to transfer OTRAG's intellectual property and know-how to the United States. Kayser, along with newer private entrepreneurs such as Musk, Rutan, and Bezos, still dream of achieving the goal of affordable space transport below $ 1,000 per pound into orbit.