OTRAG – A Story Of German Rocket Scientists, African Dictators & Commercial Spaceflight

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Orbital Transport und Raketen AG can claim to be the first private company to attempt to develop a commercial orbital launch solution. Founded by Lutz Kayser and counting Wernher von Braun among its advisors it had a novel approach to commoditizing rocket hardware to create a launch solution that could scale to requirements. It also performed most of the testing and launches in African nations ruled by dictators in addition to making France and the Soviet Union unhappy about a German developed rocket.

The 2015 interview with The Guardian is here:

And there is a feature length documentary called ‘Fly Rocket Fly’ which has been shown at film festivals but not released properly in the US http://otrag.com/english-story

  1. Hope4Today9 Now

    Great Video !!! Thanks all your content is always informative.

  2. Simpson

    this reminds me of the crazy bundles of rockets you’d build in kerbal space that would break apart during launch.

  3. Giyan Vice

    Fly Rocket Fly (2018)
    Language: German

  4. Michael Dunne

    Great topic to cover, with this relatively unknown endeavor from the 1970s (stretching into the 1980s) … Nice explanation of the components, the engineering of which underpinned the efficiencies that they were striving for.

  5. Mark D

    Thanks for another great video Scott!

  6. Tiisiphone

    Weirdest design I ever saw.

  7. Memespeech

    very kerbal of them
    how can they be so rich if they’ve been failing for so long

  8. springtime

    Fly Rocket Fly is available on Amazon instant Video and Free to watch if you have Amazon Prime

  9. LikeOnATree

    Great history! Thanks Scott!

  10. Cjkturtle

    1 million subs! Congratulations

  11. Eiststiel22

    There is acutally a movie about this called: fly rocket fly. It has english subtitles according to amazon but I am not shure about the audio.

  12. A320 CAT3DUAL


  13. Guillaume Ohz

    4:06 SQUARE !???

  14. giddy

    Wow 1M subs!
    Congratulations ✌️😛👍 🥳🍾🥴

  15. st gi

    The documentary is on amazon prime

  16. PaddyPatrone

    I watched the documentary. It`s awesome!

  17. Michael Thompson

    Ahead of their time wow.

  18. PsychoLucario

    “Lots of clustered rockets.” so another IRL Kerbal Space Program…

  19. KeyLord

    The Movie “Fly Rocket Fly” covers the story very well!

  20. Sosuke Aizen

    I love that you’re taking the extra time to make those awesome videos. Thanks man. Honestly it feels like they’re well researched and the editing is on point. I initially didn’t like the switch out from KSP but this is still awesome.

  21. Geoffrey Craig

    I remember OTRAG being written up in Omni magazine – 1979/80-ish. Thanks for posting it! Great Stuff!

  22. Kenneth Hicks

    Enjoyed that bit of rocket history : )
    More pls : )

  23. yetanotherstronk

    I love imagining the subtitles for the post-failure conversation with Mobutu at 6:24.
    General: “Look over there, was it supposed to do that?”
    Designer: “Well, you see, it kind of started flying at an angle, which caused a small problem”
    General: “No, no. I’m sure it’s supposed to go straight up, like this.”

  24. Asger Vestbjerg

    Great video as always
    Thanks for sharing :-)

  25. ajo was

    Scotty, this was a massively interesting episode! :) I am sad, that it seems they (obviously) had massive problems steering this thing?

  26. Michael Cawood

    I remember reading about OTRAG in the New Scientist in the 1970s.

  27. bier00t

    that is the most interesting story about space industry i’ve ever heard. keep them coming pls. o7

  28. Enceos

    That’s something I’d do in Kerbal when early in the Tech Tree.

  29. Dagda Morr

    3:11 – Is that Paul Rudd sitting holding a rocket?!?!

  30. addictedtopiano

    grats on that sweet sweet 1 million subs, Scotty!

  31. Roland Brune

    Very intresting. As a german, born in 1968, i never heard of it. Thank you for sharing.

  32. skaltura

    wow, never heard of otrag before :O a full length documentary would be indeed very cool

  33. Guillaume REMY

    Oh yes ! I remember having seen that in the belgian documentary “Mobutu, King of the ZaÏre”

  34. Ayelmar

    I remember reading a pretty positive-sounding (IIRC) article about OTRAG in an issue of OMNI Magazine in late 1980 or early ’81 (again, IIRC on the date).

  35. Elanman 60

    Like a lot of failed projects they were chasing too low a price point and applying cheap solutions that only partly solved a problem. The basic concept of clustering is sound after all that is exactly what soyuz and space X do. It seems like an ideal aplication for HTP/RP1 engines a la the gama used on Black Knight a highly capable design killed by the same politics that sought to peserve the US monopoly of the time. The cold war era just was not the time to develop comercial launch systems. I suspect there are a lot of good engineering solutions hiding in the supressed space programes of may countries.

  36. Ricardo Maiko Entz

    Wow, thanks for the super high quality content!

  37. DorquemadaGaming

    The documentary is amazing, you definitely should see it when possible.

  38. Cameron Webster

    Scott, Are you going to do a video on one of the astronauts having part of her helmet come off yesterday?

  39. DunaMoose

    make this in KSP

  40. StYxXx

    Thanks for this video :) The company was from my home town. So sad commercial spaceflight didn’t really take off (:P) back then.

  41. SkylersRants

    Always learning something new here. Thanks.

  42. Russ Cooke

    Perfectly logical design when your low on the tech tree.

  43. Unknow0059

    5:38 that looks like the landing strip on the island in KSP

  44. Kaiser 1404

    I woud like to see it fly

  45. Literally Shaking


  46. Victor Börjesson

    He looks like eugene from the walking dead

  47. Quinton Murdock

    Last Monday was my birthday and I got a Orion star blast 2 4.5. I can’t wait for the sky to be clear enough for some good stargazing

  48. Nicholas Maude

    Hey Scott, are you looking forward to the upcoming SpaceX Dragon 2 flight abort test in 16 hours time?

  49. Willies 89

    4:20 looks like something straight out of ksp

  50. Eugene the Philostopher

    A bit more Kerbal than I expected at the beginning.

  51. Zachary Whelan

    Hi Scott Congratulations on 1 Million subs!!! Love your content. FLY SAFE From Manchester England

  52. Cavegoblin EXTREME

    4:05 that picture remind me too much of the Crysis barrel movies. Made me laugh.

  53. CountArtha

    2:28 OMG, I just realized these guys are literally the construction minions from _Evil Genius._

  54. M ridhlo

    Literally “Moar Boosters”

  55. David Messer

    I love it! I’ve built things like this in KSP.

  56. Cerebral

    I think bigger segments the size of a semi-trailer would be interesting. You’d need less segments, still transportable, still mass producible, could have larger engine bells for vacuum stages, etc.

  57. Zoltán Pósfai

    4:22 This guy clearly lived in the cassette age :)

  58. Rob Highfill

    I wonder if OTRAG was somehow one of the inspirations for the Kerbal Space Program game.

  59. Sadiq Mohamed

    I remember this. Always wanted to know what happened to OTRAG. Thank you Scott.

  60. Jackalovski

    I want to go and make this in KSP right now but i’m stuck at work

  61. The Final Space Frontier-ist

    They’re really out here launching an office building into space

  62. Mike Jackson

    The documentary is on Amazon Prime (in the US).

  63. xYottaByte Gaming

    nice the timing of me refreshing my youtube feed and now I see this vid and says “15 sec ago”

  64. Anvilshock

    “von Braun” – Thank you ever so much, Scott, from the bottom of my heart. _tears up_

  65. Christian Braun

    Cool, I’m from Germany and never heard of OTRAG. Thanks for that!
    The docu ‘Fly Rocket Fly’ seems to be available on iTunes and Amazon. Have to give this a look on the weekend.

  66. Max K

    Has there ever been an orbital vehicle that successfully used _only_ differential thrust for steering? To my knowledge the concept has never worked, but correct me if I’m wrong.

  67. Abbreviated Reviews

    It would have been entertaining to see that water tower fly though…

  68. Pulsar

    Its nice to have standardized boosters to ease construction, but when the implementation of these boosters is more complex than just building a bigger booster…

  69. Reverie Planetarian

    Now I’m remembering the Mythbusters test where they made a rocket sled to launch Buster through the air that was powered by nothing but Estes motors. That was a nightmare to get working, and that was just one stage – they resorted to putting the tail of the rocket in a pan of black powder just because they knew there was no way that wouldn’t hit all the rockets.
    Now I’m remembering my brush with rocketry as a little boy. Nothing was less reliable than that electric launch system. Sometimes it launched in a few seconds, sometimes after tense minutes…and if you’re anything like me, sometimes the wind kills you before staging can.

  70. ReinhardB100

    4:10 This looks like taken straight from a Perry Rhodan novel ^^

  71. Michael Bishop

    Remember the Canadian space gun/artillery designer who couldn’t get any work in the west, so he worked for some dubious folk in the ME, and got assassinated?

  72. master shooter64

    otrag engineers: how many boosters do you want?
    lutz: yes
    ortag: is 50 enough?
    lutz: moar boosters!!!

  73. Lance Harker

    Never heard of this at all, sounds like a similar story to Gerald Bull and his orbital guns. Apart from the end, instead of an island he ended up being assassinated by Mossad… probably.

  74. paradigm respawn

    In the Dark Days before Thiokol Rubber.
    @2:30 “Are We Men? No! We Are DEVO!”
    @4:10 Launching the World Trade Center

  75. Rollertoaster 81

    Yep, that looks like a 70s era automotive windshield wiper motor right in the middle at 2:55

  76. Simon White

    I have John D Clark’s book ‘Ignition’I’m gonna make one of these so I’m just off to the shed.(Anyone got any Mercury and Fluorine?)

  77. Harry Mack

    I think I have played too much ksp because my first tough when he said 1000 core rocket was “it would run slow with that high a part count..”

  78. Steele

    Lighting 40 motors at the same time sounds problematic

  79. Cosmic_Fyre

    How very kerbal of them. Not enough thrust? just add more of the same boosters!

  80. Nina

    5:05 “There were however some problems”
    color me surprised, I did not see this one going wrong

  81. Michael Korntheuer

    Where the hell did you find that much info and images and VIDEO about OTRAG?????? I have been looking for years to get some details on their designs, let alone actual pictures. What is your source?

  82. Gonun

    Two words: Moar boosters

  83. janos -Ajna Releips-

    Oh that’s interesting, I am from Germany and have already read about the German rocket company on Wikipedia but could not find much about it.

  84. mattcolver1

    There was a design being kicked around McDonnell Douglas back during the Reagan SDI years. They called it the Barbarian.
    It was 12 clustered Delta II 1st stages, 3 Shuttle SRBs, with a 5M Titan IV fairing on top. I don’t recall what was being used as an upper-stage. During that time they would have probably opted for either a Boeing IUS or a Lockheed 2 engine Centaur. One of the managers had a model of it in his office. It was impressive.

  85. TheMalarz1989

    When this skyscraper sized rocket appeared on the screen I burst into laud laughter :D Crazy idea :D

  86. revoxx

    Looks like all of my KSP rockets

  87. Mike Edwards

    Scott- You know you have to do this in KSP now? Thanks for the great content, it must have been very intriguing at the time and you can see why SpaceX received a lot of scepticism initially.

  88. Sulev-Madis Silber

    3:58 – world trade center north has liftoff!

  89. Mike Donovan

    Lol “We want to build incredibly simple rockets”
    “We’re gonna build a rocket with over a thousand engines and fuel tanks”

  90. skyggen2

    A strange twist to this story. The journalist of the Guardian article on Lutz was Kim Wall. She was murdered by Peter Madsen, mad inventor who built his own submarine, and now wanted to build rocket and go to space in collaboration with Copenhagen Suborbitals. They called him the RocketMan. He tortured and killed her on board his own submarine and dumped her dismembered body in the ocean. He is now in prison indefinetly. RIP Kim and the Danish Space Program.

  91. nikita kazovski

    just wanted to say thank you for starting me on my path to becoming an aerospace engineer about 4 years ago. you’re the best.

  92. Rocketmaster 2016

    Thanks Scott for doing a video about OTRAG! Lutz Kayser actually was my granduncle, although i Never got to See him as He basically lived on the other side of the world…
    The movie is really Good and informative and i recommend watching it , but it only covers the story when they were in Zaire.
    I may still have some original documents lying around, so if you Want i could send some Pictures of them to you.

  93. Guido Ferri

    That guy was obsessed with asparagus

  94. lies damnlies

    “Nitrogen tetroxide”
    _starts running away from the very idea of this rocket_

  95. Syriusz B

    This design is insane! Like, they are aware of square-cube law, right? And they went against it…
    Also: people are afraid that we might develop weapons, so to elevate their concerns lets work with dictators!

  96. Henry Cole

    I love the progression here. They had to leave Germany, so they went to Zaire and worked with Mobutu. Then they have to leave Zaire and went to Libya and worked with Ghaddafi. Then oh by the way they had an original Hitler painting.
    Great people.

  97. TWX1138

    The largest flying model rocket I ever built used a cluster of seven Estes D engines. I hadn’t realied how badly misalignment of the ganged body-tubes would affect the flight performance of the rocket, it partly broke midair, pitched downward, caught fire while still flying, and crashed right after the engines burned out. Needless to say, I kept it to single-engines per-stage after that.

  98. Lithostheory

    Russian N1 rocket: 30 engines
    SpaceX Starship: 37 engines
    ORTAG: hold my beer

  99. theamartstore

    I see they didn’t try the “add more struts” technique. Amateurs.

  100. TheMotlias

    This is the most kerbal disign of any real rocket Ive ever seen:
    “Okay what if, and hear me out here, we just strap 400 boosters in stages together? What could go wrong?”

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