GOLDEN, Colo. —

Rocketplane Global Inc. (RGI) has completed an overhaul of its effort to build a

suborbital space plane to serve the

space tourism and

microgravity research markets and possibly even launch small satellites


Oklahoma City

-based RGI has separated from Rocketplane Inc.

, its

former corporate parent, as well as RocketplaneKistler, said Craig Dickman, RGI chairman and chief strategist


“There is no affiliation between Rocketplane Global and the remnants of the Rocketplane organization,” Dickman told Space News. “We felt there needed to be a single focus on the suborbital space program … and a single focus on the development of the XP rocketplane.



terminated an agreement with

RocketplaneKistler in which the agency was to help fund development of a reusable launcher to service the international space station.

NASA axed the agreement due to the firm’s inability to meet financial milestones.

Dickman said RGI’s

primary focus is on

moving forward with development of the Rocketplane XP suborbital space vehicle

and on presenting a

business plan to the market and investors in a time period that is competitive.

The reshaping of RGI began the first of the year, and

the split with the other elements of Rocketplane has been “smooth and seamless,” Dickman emphasized.

On the engineering side, both computer modeling and wind tunnel testing have led to XP design changes, moving the craft away from being an enhanced

Learjet-based airframe. Those alterations include a set of fixed canards at the vehicle’s nose to provide added control; a T-tail instead of a V-tail to shave off weight while adding redundancy and

control; and a more robust




said David Faulkner, RGI



officer and XP 




The revised XP would carry


passengers and a single pilot, and would be powered by

two afterburning J85 jet engines and a liquid-oxygen and kerosene-fueled rocket



Paul Metz has joined RGI as chief test pilot, replacing

former shuttle astronaut John Herrington, who resigned from the group last December.

Metz left

Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., in February 2006 and brings to RGI

a rich flight-test history

, including making the first flight on the F-22A Raptor. Prior to his stint with Lockheed Martin

he served 12 years as chief test pilot for Northrop Aircraft.

“I was drawn to the project,” Metz said in interview

. “It’s out there on the edge of the new frontier … in many ways, not unlike when commercial aviation started in this country.”

Metz said that with his experience as a

test pilot, he

can bring a lot to the design of the XP vehicle, as well as assure that the craft handles safely under both normal


emergency conditions.

“It all looks sound,” Metz said of the XP design. “It all looks doable … certainly within the grasp of technology. So I was very comfortable signing on.”



the company is in the process


selecting its last two subcontractors, likely within the year:

one an airframe manufacturer, the other to provide the XP’s flight control system


“We’re getting all the program plans in place and also recruiting key folks that are going to see this through to the end,” Faulkner said

in an interview. “We’ve got the programmatic solution and we’re ready to execute.”

Faulkner said the XP’s

primary purpose is to fly passengers to suborbital space. A secondary function is to conduct microgravity science using

an experiment-carrying rack that would

replace a seat inside the vehicle, he said.

Additionally, using the XP as a high-flying platform from which to launch tiny satellites

into low Earth orbit – via an expendable upper-stage rocket engine hung from the bottom of the vehicle – is under review, Faulkner added.


flight operations facility

will be at Burns Flat

on the grounds of the Oklahoma Spaceport, a former Strategic Air Command base that is run by the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority

. The 1,080-hectare

site includes a 4,050-meter


The Oklahoma space authority received a launch site operator’s license

in June 2006 from

the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation and became the second inland U.S. spaceport on the books.

Faulkner said

about one-third to one-half of the XP flight test program consists of flights that are not rocket powered. Rocket-powered flights begin later in the program, building up to full-fledged suborbital, which are permitted from the Oklahoma Spaceport.

“So we’re not going to have to play ‘Mother May I’ with the military. I think that’s going to be a real competitive advantage in moving forward,” Faulkner said.

“It’s a gradual build-up,” Metz said of the test-flight program. “You start looking at it from the basics.”

The jet-


subsonic flights would shake out the craft and demonstrate safe takeoff and landing, while

RGI engineers

“look for anything that may pop out aerodynamically,” Metz said. XP’s electrical, hydraulic and communications subsystems are also on the checklist as the vehicle works toward

rocket-powered flight at ever-increasing supersonic speeds and high-altitude regimes, he said.

The XP would depart from the runway

just like a conventional business jet and climb to an altitude of just

over 12,000 meters

. At this point, the spaceship’s pilot ignites the vehicle’s rocket engine, pulling

into a nearly vertical climb and throttling into space.

The suborbital trajectory produces three to four minutes of microgravity before the pilot restarts

the vehicle’s jet engines for a conventional runway touchdown.

Faulkner declined to say when XP test flights might begin, calling that information

“competition sensitive.

” Faulkner said RGI is in a

horserace-like competition with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and others hungry to establish a suborbital spaceliner industry.

The media buzz surrounding Virgin Galactic “has legitimized the fact that this is not a goofy market,” said Chuck Lauer, RGI vice president for business development

. “There is no snickering under the breath at all … that this is anything other than a new and growing market.”


the investment community is beginning to understand that

suborbital space is a

multi-threaded market. RGI’s repositioning and its sole focus on the XP is being synchronized with the firm’s step-by-step financial plan, he said.

RGI officials declined to discuss financing specifics, including how much has been spent to date on XP and how much more is needed.

“We’ve come very far with the money we’ve spent. It’s within industry norms for a prototype program,” Faulkner said.

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