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Rocketplane Kistler Ousted From COTS; New Competition Announced Today

By | October 22, 2007

      Rocketplane Kistler lost its deal to develop rocket transportation to haul cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), and NASA will open new competition for companies wishing to share in the $174.7 million remaining seed money that the space agency offers to firms that can provide the service.

      NASA terminated its funding agreement with Rocketplane Kistler, of Oklahoma City, a deal that the company had received last year. Until the new competition results in selection of another firm, that leaves Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) for a while as the only COTS-selected firm.

      The space agency noted that Rocketplane "repeatedly failed to meet agreed-upon milestones in its effort to develop and demonstrate commercial transportation capabilities to low Earth orbit" as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Service (COTS).?NASA informed Rocketplane Kistler Thursday of its decision in a letter signed by Rick Gilbrech, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems.

      With Rocketplane dropped from the program, NASA Friday provided a synopsis and today provided a full announcement for a new round of industry proposals, permitting firms to compete for funding that remains in the COTS program. Rocketplane had received $32.1 million in NASA seed money, but failed to raise about half a billion dollars in private funds.

      Companies wishing to vie for the seed money and the chance to become a space trucking company for NASA will have 30 days to respond to the announcement today, and the space agency intends to enter into one or more new COTS agreements early next year. Companies that are U.S. commercial providers, as defined in the Commercial Space Act, will be eligible.

      COTS provides seed money to companies when they reach performance milestones to help them design and develop space transportation capabilities that could pave the way for private cargo deliveries to the International Space Station.

      The money math works out this way:?Of the $206.8 million NASA agreed to invest in Rocketplane Kistler, the company received a total of $32.1 million. The remaining $174.7 million will be offered to aerospace firms in the new competition.

      NASA needs private space transportation companies, and perhaps Russian and European space agencies, to step in when the United States — the nation that put men on the moon — will become unable to take even one astronaut into low Earth orbit.

      That will be the situation for half a decade, from the 2010 mandated retirement of the space shuttle fleet until 2015, when the next-generation U.S. spaceship Orion-Ares is slated to blast off on its first manned flight.

      "NASA remains fully committed to the COTS Project," said Alan Lindenmoyer, who as manager of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office oversees the COTS Project.

      "A vibrant commercial space industry will help NASA fulfill its promise to support the International Space Station, retire the space shuttle and return humans to the moon," Lindenmoyer said.

      In 2006, NASA chose two companies to receive COTS funding: Rocketplane Kistler and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, of El Segundo, Calif. Both companies signed Space Act Agreements with the agency that detailed mutually agreed-upon financial and technical milestones, as well as a payment schedule based on those requirements.

      In late May, Rocketplane Kistler missed the fourth milestone, a second round of private financing, in its COTS agreement. After months of discussions with the company, NASA officially notified Rocketplane Kistler in early September of its failure to perform.

      Finally, the space agency decided to terminate the Rocketplane Kistler agreement when, after careful consideration, NASA concluded that further efforts were not in its best interest. NASA followed the process for termination that was spelled out in the Space Act Agreement.

      NASA’s other funded COTS partner, SpaceX, is current on all of its financial and technical milestones. NASA also has unfunded COTS agreements with five other companies.

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