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Rocketplane Kistler Says It Has New Strategic Partner in the Wings

Rocketplane Kistler Says It Has New Strategic Partner in the Wings
Artist's concept of Rocketplane-Kistler's K-1 Orbital Vehicle. (Image credit: NASA.)

WASHINGTON -Rocketplane Kistler President Randy Brinkley said Sept. 25 that the OklahomaCity-based company already has found another firm willing to replace Orbital SciencesCorp. as prime contractor for the K-1 reusable launch vehicle.

"We're verycomfortable with the new partner and think it's a good fit," Brinkley said.

Brinkleydeclined to identify Rocketplane Kistler's new partner but said that theunnamed U.S. company would take over Orbital Sciences' systems engineering andintegration role on the K-1 and make a strategic investment "equal to orgreater" than the $10 million Orbital had planned to bring to the table.

RocketplaneKistler was pickedby NASA in mid-August to receive $207 million under the CommercialOrbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to help finance developmentof the K-1 and conduct a series of international space station re-supply flightdemonstrations by the end of the decade. A separate $278 million COTS awardwent to Rocketplane Kistler's rival, SpaceExploration Technologies of El Segundo, Calif.

RocketplaneKistler and Orbital Sciences had a strategic partnership that entailed Orbitalserving as the K-1's prime contractor and investing $10 million to helpre-start development of the rocket.

Orbitalspokesman Barron Beneski said Sept. 25 that the Dulles, Va.-based company wasparting ways with Rocketplane Kistler over a disagreement about the company'sbusiness plans.

"We haven'tbeen able to agree on all the elements of the business plan so we will not bepart of the program going forward," Beneski said. "And of course as a result wewill not be investing the $10 million."

Brinkleytold Space News in a separate interview that the partnership fell apartlast week after Orbital Sciences "conditioned their investment" on makingdesign changes to the K-1 that Rocketplane Kistler found unacceptable.

Brinkleydeclined to detail what changes Orbital wanted to make to the K-1, but saidthey "involved a different configuration and different hardware, includingnon-U.S. hardware."

"It was asignificant change to our K-1 baseline from what we agreed to with NASA in ourSpace Act Agreement," Brinkley said. "After consultation with NASA regardingthe proposed changes and impact to our baseline, we decided to terminate thestrategic relationship."

Beneskideclined to comment further on the specifics of Orbital's and Rocketplane Kistler'sdisagreement.

Brinkleysaid losing Orbital Sciences as a strategic partner, while regrettable, wouldnot prevent Rocketplane Kistler from meeting its obligations under the COTSSpace Act Agreement it signed with NASA. That agreement makes continued NASAfunding of the K-1 contingent upon Rocketplane Kistler's ability to meetregular programmatic, technical and financial milestones.

RocketplaneKistler estimates that completing the K-1 and conducting its COTS demonstrationflights will cost roughly $600 million. The company has pledged to NASA that itwould match its investment roughly two-to-one with outside capital.

Brinkleysaid Rocketplane Kistler executives would be meeting with NASA officials Sept.28 "to walk through where we are both programmatically as well as where we areon the financial end."

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