Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) was a reusable spacecraft firm originally based in Oklahoma. It was formed in 2006 after Rocketplane Limited, Inc. acquired Kistler Aerospace. NASA announced that Rocketplane Kistler had been chosen to develop crew and cargo launch services. However, having missed financial milestones NASA terminated funding for the project. It filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2010.
K-1 launch vehicle
Rocketplane Kistler's primary project was the K-1 launch vehicle, a reusable launch system which was intended to get as high as geosynchronous orbit, and was hoped to compete with relatively expensive, one-shot rockets for servicing of the International Space Station.
Kistler Aerospace was founded in Kirkland, Washington by Walter Kistler and Bob Citron in 1993, it was a private company attempting to develop fully reusable vehicles capable of earth orbit at a minimal price.
In February 2006, Kistler was purchased by the majority owner of Rocketplane Limited, Inc, a competing reusable, private spacecraft firm. Kistler Aerospace continued to operate until its closure under the name Rocketplane Kistler. Meanwhile Rocketplane Limited, Inc. changed its name to Rocketplane Global, Inc., with a third company, Rocketplane, Inc. set up as a parent company for the two.
NASA launch partnership
In August 2006, NASA announced that Rocketplane Kistler had been chosen, along with SpaceX, to develop crew and cargo launch services, aka Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), for the International Space Station. The plan called for demonstration flights between 2008 and 2010. Rocketplane Kistler would receive up to $207 million if they met all NASA milestones.
Unmet financial milestones in 2006 and 2007
In September 2006, Rocketplane Kistler began to miss financial milestones associated with the COTS agreement, and requested and received from NASA a 30-day extension on the milestone for completing its $40 million initial financing round. In February 2007 RpK renegotiated its COTS agreement, agreeing to raise the $500 million of required private financing before the end of May.
By August 2007, RpK had failed to obtain that financing, forcing them to cut their workforce.
On September 7, 2007, NASA notified Rocketplane Kistler that the COTS agreement would be terminated in 30 days due to continued inability to meet its financial milestones. NASA announced in October 2007 that it had terminated funding for the project.
Rocketplane Inc., along with its subsidiaries, Rocketplane Kistler and Rocketplane Global, failed to deliver on promises to Oklahomans and—financially broke—left the state in 2009. "The company collected $18 million in state tax breaks, but its Rocketplane XP spacecraft never materialized. [The] company closed its Oklahoma City headquarters and relinquished its hangar at Burns Flat."
On June 15, 2010 Rocketplane Inc., as well as its subsidiaries and its CEO, George French, filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy. After 17 years of attempted development, the bankruptcy paperwork for Rocketplane Kistler listed $108,250 in assets including hardware and tooling for the K-1 rocket, as well as many unvalued patents and trademarks pertaining to the rocket. Secured liabilities were claimed at $3.7 million, with unsecured liabilities listed at just under $3.7 million, as well.
- Farewell, Rocketplane, NewSpace Journal, 7 July 2010, accessed 2010-07-13
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- Cooper, Scott. (7 July 2010). "Rocketplane, which received $18 million in Oklahoma tax credits, filed for bankruptcy last month." Oklahoma Gazette. 
- Jones, Thomas D. (December 2006). "Techwatch-Resident Astronaut". Popular Mechanics 183 (12): 31. ISSN 0032-4558.
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- "Rocketplane Kistler and ATK Announce Agreement for K-1 Launch Vehicle and COTS Program" (Press release). Rocketplane Kistler. 8 November 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-02.
- Berger, Brian (1 August 2007). "NASA Shows Patience as Private Spaceflight Firm Hunts Financing". Space.com. Retrieved 2007-09-02.
- Pasztor, Andy (2007-08-23). "Rocketplane Cuts Workforce As Financial Woes Mount". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2007-09-02.
- Berger, Brian (September 7, 2007). "NASA Gives Rocketplane Kistler Termination Notice". Space.com.
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- Foust, Jeff (2009-07-31). "Rocketplane’s woes". Personal Spaceflight. Retrieved 2009-09-07.
- No spaceships at Oklahoma's spaceport but they are welcome, The Oklahoman, January 17, 2010.
- Rocketplane Limited official site
- Rocketplane Kistler official site
- Appealing COTS: RpK’s Avenues for Relief
- Video Animation of the K-1 reusable rocket concept