Chair Force Engineer

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Low-Risk Acquisition

The most interesting alt-space tidbit this week is George French's acquisition of a majority share in Kistler. Of all proposed reusable launchers, Kistler's design had to be the most conservative possible approach (and thus, the one with the best chance of succeeding, assuming sufficient funding was available.) Now that George French is sitting in Kistler's driver seat, the funding issue will hopefully be moot.

When Pioneer Rocketplane first started, they advocated the aerial propellant transfer approach, championed by Mitchell Burnside Clapp. A few years back, Rocketplane saw the writing on the wall and realized that the real money was not in satellite launch, but in space tourism. The XP spacecraft was designed, using a significant degree of LearJet 25 components. Aerial propellant transfer was unneeded to meet the much lower energy requirements for a space tourism vehicle.

The acquisition of Kistler indicates to me that Rocketplane views the Kistler two-stage approach as the next step beyond their space tourism plans. While they may not have totally abandoned aerial propellant transfer (their proposed Pathfinder had potential for lowering the cost of delivering small sats to orbit,) it's a telling sign that the conservative Kistler design is Rocketplane's preferred option.

Kistler has tried to rally support by saying that their vehicle is 75% complete. While they've certainly made it a lot farther than other space startups, there is still a large gap between hardware fabrication and the actual testing and operations of the rocket. Hopefully Rocketplane's assistance will help Kistler get to where it needs to be, instead of simply raiding the Kistler program for select technologies that can be applied to Rocketplane products.