Despite Delay in Finding Investors, RpK Remains Optimistic

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  Space News Business

Despite Delay in Finding Investors, RpK Remains Optimistic

By BRIAN BERGER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 07 September 2007
01:30 pm ET





WASHINGTON —


RocketplaneKistler (RpK) says it expects to




renew




a push to secure some $500 million in additional financing for its reusable rocket once U.S. investors return from August vacations.



The Oklahoma City-based company has been struggling to come up with the money it needs to complete development of the K-1 reusable rocket and conduct a series of flight demonstrations meant to show NASA the vehicle is capable of delivering cargo to the international space station.



RpK is three




months late in meeting a key financial milestone spelled out in an agreement that




already has been renegotiated once since NASA selected the company and El Segundo, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) to split nearly $500 million in government funding under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program to help with the development of their rival vehicles.

RpK
President Randy Brinkley told Space News in June that the company was close to completing its financing and expected to have a deal nailed down before the end of July. RpK missed that self-imposed deadline. The Wall Street Journal reported Aug. 21 that negotiations between RocketplaneKistler and its prospective investors had broken down.

Brinkley would not directly confirm or deny the story, but told Space News




the company was pressing on.

“The less said the better at the current time as the press coverage has certainly complicated our ongoing discussions with potential investors,” Brinkley wrote in an Aug. 27 e-mail. “We have continued commitments from our lead investor and have also received additional commitments of one hundred million [dollars]. We have a coordinated plan to reengage with Wall Street after Labor Day [Sept. 3] when key decision makers are available.”



“We are keeping NASA closely informed,” Brinkley added.

NASA spokeswoman Beth Dickey said Aug. 30 that the agency “has been briefed on RocketplaneKistler’s plan for moving forward and is considering what its response will be.”



Meanwhile,




SpaceX
– the other participant in NASA’s COTS program – reports good technical progress on the development of its Falcon 9 rocket and




Dragon reusable capsule for




delivering cargo and eventually people to the space station. However, despite that progress, the company’s latest launch manifest shows that Falcon 9’s launch debut has been delayed several months to the fourth quarter of 2008.



The launch, which is being paid for by a








U.S. government customer the company declines to identify, had been slated for the second quarter of 2008. Consequently, Falcon 9’s second launch – SpaceX’s first COTS demonstration flight – has slipped from September 2008 into the fourth quarter of 2008.

SpaceX
President Elon Musk cautioned against reading technical setbacks into the revised launch manifest.

“The notion of a slip can imply that we had high certainty in our manifest dates and that something bad happened to change that,” Musk told Space News. “All that happens from time to time is that our guess at the launch date is updated to be less wrong.”

Musk said




SpaceX’s
COTS agreement allows a minimum 30-day delay for any milestone, so the change to a fourth-quarter launch target “is within our agreement. However, until we get closer to launch, the [Falcon 9] dates should be considered very rough estimates.”

With the first Falcon 9 main stage in place at the company’s Texas test facility, SpaceX hopes to start conducting engine




tests in October. Before that happens, however, Musk said SpaceX has additional work to do on the Merlin 1C engine.



“[T]here is one remaining minor item before we can complete our Merlin 1C development program and start mounting engines onto the stage,” Musk said. “It is a problem that only shows up after six to nine firings of the engine, but we want to take care of it before doing any multi-engine firings. The fix should be in place in




next month. If that works, we will start a series of stage hold down firing tests beginning in October with one engine and working our way progressively to nine engines.”



Musk said it was too soon to say when the company would conduct its first simultaneous test of all nine-engines.



“I can’t tell you definitively when the nine-engine test will be quite yet, because it is impossible to know,” he said. “Might be late this year or might be early next.”

Musk said the company is on track to manufacture “over 20 orbital-class engines” by the end of the year.





SpaceX
also announced Aug. 29 that it had completed the first phase of a three-phase NASA safety review the company must clear before it can send Dragon to the space station for the first time. SpaceX said the review covered 23 specific hazards with a primary focus on the company’s plans for avoiding a collision with the station.