WASHINGTON - The majority owner of Rocketplane Limited, Inc., an Oklahoma City, Okla.-based company building a reusable space plane for the suborbital tourism market, is adding Kistler Aerospace to his portfolio and initially intends to use its design for a reusable orbital vehicle to compete for business from NASA such as delivering supplies to the international space station.
Rocketplane CEO and President George French said in a telephone interview Feb. 25 that Kistler was purchased for an undisclosed price and that he is now the majority owner of both Rocketplane and Kistler.
French, who was an early investor in Kistler when it was started more than a decade ago, described it as an established company with mature engineering designs, and a substantial amount of hardware that has already been manufactured at several sites around the United States including parts built by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. He said Kistler, which had raised more than $600 million in financing before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2003, has solid technology but that the company was unable to get to the flight stage because of financing problems that arose after the late 1990s financial crisis in Asia that affected some of its investors and the impact of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on financial markets.
"Regrettably, they never made it, but they were close," French said.
Kistler emerged from bankruptcy proceedings in 2005. At that time the company said the Kistler K-1 reusable launch vehicle was 75 percent complete and that it would set about the task of raising the money needed to finish it. In September, however, Kistler's major investor Bay Harbour Management decided to reduce its funding of the company and reduce staff.
French said Kistler still has about a dozen employees key to the project on its payroll and that their operations and the company headquarters will be shifted to Oklahoma City from Kirkland, Washington.
French declined to say how much he paid for Kistler or when he expected the K-1 to fly. One of his first plans for Kistler though is to submit a proposal for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, French said.
Beyond that French said the addition of an orbital vehicle - one of the key goals mentioned prominently on Rocketplane's web site -gives the company a strong foundation in the future of commercial spaceflight.