Chair Force Engineer

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Say It Isn't So

If all goes according to plan, NASA will soon re-award roughly $175 mil that was originally supposed to fund Rocketplane-Kistler's COTS entry. The loss of this contract is likely to leave RpK in dire financial straits.

On the flip side of the coin, Jeff Foust reports that RpK is redesigning its XP space tourism vehicle to make it more competitive in the suborbital marketplace. The logic behind the change is sound. But the fact that RpK could make that change indicates to me that they were never as far along in the development of XP as they publicly claimed. I haven't seen much info on the engine that the team plans on using (which is allegedly based on the old Atlas sustainer.) It's also been stated that many of the team's personnel, like the legendary David Urie, have been released due to the company's focus on keeping the COTS program alive.

It's been pointed out that, during the late 90's, the Kistler K-1 essentially killed the original Rocketplane (the Pioneer Pathfinder) by winning a key investment by Northrop Grumman. Ironically, the Rocketplane company and its current rocketplane may be killed by their acquisition of the Kistler albatross.

RpK is currently fighting tooth-and-nail with legal appealsl, hoping that NASA will reconsider its decision to re-award the COTS contract. I don't blame the company, but I think a smarter way ahead would be to drop K-1 entirely and try to turn a profit with XP. The K-1 hardware could be sold, although I'm not completely certain who'd be interested in buying it. Orbital Sciences might be interested in buying the NK-33 engines that RpK owns, for use on their upcoming "Taurus II" rocket (hopefully there will be a better name for it soon.)

At one time, I was very enthusiastic about the K-1 concept. By now I realize the the project has been a costly money-pit. I look at the "Launch Assist Platform" first stage and realize that the propulsive return to the launch site is a waste of propellant mass. While the lessons of K-1 could eventually help RpK to build a smaller reusable spacecraft (utilizing a rocketplane first stage and a ballistic second stage,) it has become an albatross that weighed down and sank a once-promising newspace firm.

Labels: , , , ,