March 13 , 2006

The Rocket Company

by Patrick J. G. Stiennon & David M. Hoerr
Illustrated by Doug Birkholz

(c) 2004 all rights reserved

The Rocket Company was first published on HobbySpace in a weekly serialized form. Subsequently, the book was accepted for publication by the AIAA and the book appeared in the summer of 2005. The printed version contains revised and updated materials, a new chapter, and over 30 illustrations.

At the request of the publisher, most of the online text previously posted on HobbySpace has been removed. Chapter 1 and Chapter 4 remain as samples. For the complete version,


The Rocket Company
The Rocket Company

Fictionalized account of the challenges faced by a group of seven investors and their engineering team in developing a low-cost, reusable, Earth-to-orbit launch vehicle. Forward by Peter Diamandis
Amazon: US


The Rockety Company at Barnes &

New Book Inspired by the X-Prize Competition - AIAA Press Release - Apr.14.05

Contact information and backgrounds of the authors are given below.

A review of The Rocket Company in the March 2006 issue of SpaceFlight Magazine

The Rocket Company
Patrick J. G. Stiennon and David M. Hoerr
AIAA, 263pp, 2005
US$34.95, ISBN 1-56347-659-7

This is an unusual book which is somewhat difficult to categorise. It is a work of fiction telling the story of a private company developing a reusable launch system. As a work of fiction I can confidently say it is not the next Harry Potter but that is not the purpose of the book. It is intended to introduce and discuss the financial and technical issues with reusable launchers, as the authors' state: "to contribute to and encourage the on going debate about how low-cost access can be achieved".

As the story progresses the technical, financial and even management, issues are presented as discussion by the protagonists. It is surprisingly comprehensive in this regard and the format allows some perspectives that could not easily be accomplished in a more conventional format. On the downside the overall coverage is an-American with current American prejudices coming out very strongly. For example, single stage and air breathing are both summarily dismissed without any proper evaluation of the arguments supporting them.

Who is the book aimed at? People involved in launcher development may find the fictional style off-putting although as already mentioned, it does offer some fresh thinking in places. Perhaps a bigger market is students who may find this a very palatable way of learning a lot about astronautics, much better than a dry text book, and almost as detailed.

This is a brave attempt to do something different in presenting astronautical engineering and is to be applauded. If the subject interests you it is worth a bash.

[Reprinted here by permission of the British Interplanetary Society.]

More reviews:

An online text interview with authors Patrick J. G. Stiennon and David M. Hoerr:

Listen to the radio interview with the authors on The SpaceShow from August 16th, 2005.

A simulation of the DH-1 vehicle is in development via the add-on mechanism for the Orbiter space simulator:


The Rocket Company gives a fictional account of the development of a reusable launch vehicle, including a description of a business model that achieves the goal of greatly reducing the cost of space transportation into low Earth orbit. Although a work of fiction, the book follows in the vein of non-fictional accounts of the development of successful technological products and businesses, such as The Soul of a New Machine, and American Steel. The book tells the story of the difficulties faced by a group of seven fictional investors committed to solving the problem of creating an economic engine that will cause the cost of space transportation to spiral rapidly downward as the market for launch services expands. In this context, the marketing, regulatory, and technical problems facing any serious attempt to reduce the cost of space transportation are explored. [The book appeared here in serialized fashion, one chapter per week.]

Written by professionals that have been around the block a couple times, there are elements and details present that even well intentioned writers of hard science fiction would never have captured. I might argue over a couple little specific points, but the work stands up. I sometimes use it as a shorthand now -- "A boosted SSTO, like in The Rocket Company".

John Carmack
Armadillo Aerospace

Nearly every chapter contains a wealth of information about various aspects of RLV design and development, as well as economic and regulatory concerns. The authors know the material well: both worked on a number of launch vehicle projects for companies as varied as Lockheed and Pacific American Launch Systems. They·re not afraid to delve deep into technical details and minutiae to explain why a particular design approach has been chosen.

Jeff Foust
Editor and publisher of The Space Review.

Next to direct participation, there is no better way to understand an industry than to read a book about real business cases; there is no better way to understand the aerospace engineering process than to read a design case study of an aircraft development. Since we don't have any factual case studies of reusable launch vehicle developments to learn from, the next best thing is The Rocket Company. Combining the challenges of financing and regulatory affairs with the details of vehicle engineering and flight test, The Rocket Company will stand us in good stead until the authors can write a similar history of the first real commercial reusable space launch project.

Gary C Hudson

Table of Contents

Ch. 1: Seven Billionaires and One Big Problem
A group of wealthy investors decide to tackle the challenge of drastically lowering the cost of access to space. The question of why launch costs remain so high is discussed.

Ch. 2: Big Telescopes, Hot Rodders, and Librarians
The group puts together an engineering team. The skills and experience necessary for such a team are discussed. Extensive research into prior work is a key part of starting the project.

Ch. 3: Gateses, Jobses, and the Laureates' Lemma
What lessons can be learned from technological revolutions such as with the personal computer that can help to open the space frontier?

Ch. 4: Build Big, Build Many, or Use It Again
Comparison of lowering launch costs with a big dumb booster, with mass production of ELVs as done with Russian boosters, and with a fully reusable vehicle. Vehicles should be designed for minimum operating cost rather than minimum launch weight. Building RLVs and selling them to others is offered as the primary market, following the model of the airline industry.

Ch. 5: Small Market, Small Payload, but not a Toy
They decide on the goals for the total vehicle price tag, payload size, and the operating cost per pound to LEO for their piloted vehicle.

Ch. 6: Myths, Mistrust, and Trust
A review of engineering for large projects. Systems engineering, in particular, is found often to have caused more problems than it solved.

Ch. 7: The Pitch
A detailed overview of the challenges of getting to orbit is given. The implications of the rocket equation, mass ratios, ISP, GLOW, and staging are presented. They decide to go with a two-stage rather than a single stage to orbit design. The first stage is powered with liquid methane/LOX and the second stage with LH2/LOX. The first stage will use powered landing while the orbital stage will use a parawing.

Ch. 8: Mazes, Stops Cords, and Skunk Workers
Project management issues as the project transitions from design to construction.

Ch. 9: Fuel Tanks, Heat Shields, and Fire Walls
Extensive discussion of thermal protection issues and how they effect the design of the vehicle structures.

Ch.10: Balloon Tanks, Fracture Mechanics, and Friction Stir Welding
Why fuel tanks don't need to use composites, how to avoid cracks, and building a rocket tank like a balloon.

Chapter 11: Enthusiasm Bubbles, Ejections, and Topping Cycles
Regulatory challenges, ejection seat systems for both stages, reentry protection for ejection from the orbital stage, engine selection (review of LH2/LOX engine designs), and overflight risk calculations

Chapter 12: Gasoline, Alchol, Kerosene, or Liquid Methane
Fuel choices.

Chapter 13: Design Reviews, Prototypes, and Parawings
The review process, prototyping and landing system designs.

Chapter 14: Guidance, Navigation, and Control
Flying the simulator and the intricacies of GNC.

Chapter 15: Webb Suit, Hard Suit, Space Suit
Space suit choices, air supply, and toilets.

Chapter 16: Markets, Philosophy, Techniques, and Approaches
The challenges of making money in the aerospace industry.

Chapter 17: Rockets, Jets, and Soft Landings
The tradeoffs between rocket vs. jet powered landings for the first stage.

Chapter 18: Pilots, Payloads, and Passengers
Building a mockup, designing the crew cabin, and launching satellites..

Chapter 19: Mooncars, Monks, and Monasteries
With $200/lb costs to LEO, private lunar missions of all kinds become feasible.

Chapter 20: Aliens, Cheetahs. and Archea
A discussion of SETI, the motivations of rocketeers, and the perpetual uncertainties in life and the universe.

Chapter 21: Halfway to Everywhere
"If launch costs to low Earth orbit came down to $200 per pound, payload on Mars would cost $1200 per pound."
+ Part 2 - asteroid mining, selling water in the LEO market, and other space schemes made feasible by low cost access to LEO.

Chapter 22: First Stage, First Flight
The manned first stage flies for the first time after two years in development.

Chapter 23: Stop the Production Line!
Part 1
: Problems arise with the thermal protection and landing gear for the orbital stage
Part 2: Solutions to the TPS and landing systems; vehicle sales projections and a symphonic competition.

Chapter 24: Earth Below Us
The first orbital flight and the subsequent test flight program.

Chapter 25: Money, Manufacturing, and Marketing
The factory and production lines get going on the two stages and the list price determined. Enhanced versions of the vehicle are already planned.

Chapter 26: Always Room for Improvement
Evan as the first models role off the assembly line, planning for upgrades to raise the payload mass reaching orbit get underway.

Epilogue 1: Space is Finally a Place
Ten years later, a lot has happened with the DH-1 and space development.

Epilogue 2: Mars for the Many
With the success of the DH-1 and AM&M, the founder now focuses on the goal of low cost transport to Mars of large numbers of people for permanent settlement.


Patrick J. G. Stiennon ( is a patent attorney in a small firm in Madison, Wisconsin. Trained as a mining engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he was attending law school when he moved to California to work for Gary Hudson at GCH Inc. in 1981. After graduating from law school in 1982 he wrote a business plan for a low-cost two-stage pressure-fed vehicle.

In 1983 he went to work for Lockheed Missiles Systems Division in Sunnyvale, CA, managing subcontracts for Reentry Systems, as part of the D5 Fleet Ballistic Missile Systems. In 1985 he transferred within Lockheed to the Advanced Development Division where he worked with Max Hunter on the design of the X-Rocket, and also worked with Max Hunter on “The Figure of Merit Study”, which analyzed the limitations of air breathing vehicles. In 1988 he again transferred within Lockheed back to the Missile Systems Division, where he worked on a program to develop a launch vehicle based on existing Fleet Ballistic Missile Assets.

Leaving Lockheed in 1989 he again worked for Gary Hudson as Manager, Vehicle Systems, at Pacific American Launch Systems Inc. where he oversaw the design of the Liberty-X, a single stage expendable launch vehicle. In 1996 he was granted patent 5,568,901 to a Two Stage Launch Vehicle and Launch Trajectory Method, which is now owned by Kistler Aerospace. He was also Rotary Rocket's outside Patent Counsel.

David M. Hoerr ( is a lecturer in the Engineering Mechanics and Astronautics program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He received BS and MS degrees in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois. After graduation, he served eight years as a U.S. Air Force officer, working on missile and space projects, including an assignment in the Space Shuttle Program Office at the Johnson Space Center. He was co-founder of Space Test Inc., a start-up company that provided payload integration services to space launch customers. Later, he worked at Pacific American Launch Systems as test site manager and at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company on the Hypersonic Glide Vehicle project. In addition to aerospace, Dave has held engineering and management positions in the computer and electronics, industrial vehicle, and biotech industries.


Doug Birkholz ( is an industrial designer and one of the principals at Inspire Design Group, LLC. Inspire is a full service product development firm located in Middleton, Wisconsin whose clients include high-tech medical/scientific device and value added consumer product manufacturers. Doug was also an assistant professor and guest lecturer at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and the University of Wisconsin-Madison where Doug taught visual communication technique classes to undergraduate industrial and interior design students.

Prior to starting Inspire, Doug was industrial design manager at Fiskars Research and Development, the advanced concept center for Fiskars, one of Finlands oldest coroporations. Doug also worked for Sony Corporation of America. Doug has received several awards including four IDEA awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America, one of the most coveted design awards. Doug has also received awards from The American Society on Aging The Chicago Athenaeum, The Tylenol/Arthritis Foundation Design Award and an I.D. Magazine Design Distinction Award. Doug's work has been featured in Newsweek, Time, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics Details, Wired, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.




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