Rocketplane Kistler, the Oklahoma-based company that aspired to carry cargo to the international space station and paying passengers to the edge of space, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in mid-June, the Oklahoma Gazette reported July 7.
“The bankruptcy papers were filed June 15, one each for three separate companies — Rocketplane Inc., the parent company, and its subsidiaries Rocketplane Global and Rocketplane Kistler — and a personal bankruptcy filing by [owner George] French himself. According to the documents, the companies and French ranged in assets of $108,000 to $287,000 to liabilities of more than $8 million. The debtors included vendors Rocketplane had contracted with for services and parts, pending lawsuits and back taxes. Some of the lawsuits are from former employees for breach of contract.”
Copies of the bankruptcy papers appended to the article show that Randy Brinkley and Will Trafton, the defunct company’s former chief executive officer and chief operating officer, respectively, are suing French and Rocketplane Kistler for roughly $1 million each.
“Years went by, money dried up, commitments went empty and a ship taking humans from the Western Oklahoma plains to the upper regions of the Earth’s atmosphere for a quick joy ride never materialized. One version of the ship was found in an Oklahoma City scrap metal yard.
“‘We didn’t leave a nickel on the table,’ French told Oklahoma Gazette last week. ‘We did what we said we could do. Unfortunately, we did not complete the program as originally conceived.’”
French bought Kirkland, Wash.-based Kistler Aerospace in early 2006 just as the recently bankrupt company was preparing to submit its proposal for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The newly combined Rocketplane Kistler (RPK) was chosen alongside Space Exploration Technologies later that year to receive $207 million to help complete and demonstrate the K-1 reusable rocket’s ability to deliver cargo to the international space station. RPK, however, stumbled from the get go to raise the large sums of private capital it needed for the project. In late 2007, after RPK missed multiple milestone deadlines, NASA rescinded the company’s COTS award and held a new competition that resulted in Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences winning $178 million in support for their cargo solution, the Taurus 2-launched Cygnus tug now in development.