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Kistler Aerospace Corporation's K-1

Kistler Aerospace Corporation, a small business located in Kirkland, Washington, is developing the K-1, a two-stage fully reusable launch vehicle. It will be a vertical take-off vehicle much like traditional ELVs, but both stages are recovered following air-bag landings. The K-1 design was developed in 1995 and 1996 as a two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) vehicle that will have a payload capacity of 10,000 pounds to a standard LEO and will offer launch prices of about $17 million per launch.

The K-1 will launch vertically like conventional ELVs but will use a unique combination of parachutes and air bags to recover its two stages. The vehicle is designed to operate with a small complement of ground personnel and will be transported to the launch site and erected with a mobile transporter. The K-1 vehicle will measure about 36.9 meters high, with a launch mass of 382,300 kg.

Kistler's K-1 vehicle employs off-the-shelf technology and components in its design. The first stage, known as the "Launch Assist Platform," is powered by three liquid oxygen (LOX)/kerosene GenCorp Aerojet AJ26 series engines. These engines include the core of the NK-33 engines originally built in the 1960s for the Russian moon mission program. After launch, the Launch Assist Platform separates from the second stage and restarts its center engine to fly a return trajectory to a landing area near the launch site. The Launch Assist Platform deploys parachutes and descends to the landing area where air bags are deployed to cushion its landing.

The second stage, or Orbital Vehicle, continues into LEO where it releases its payload. The Orbital Vehicle is powered by a single Aerojet AJ26-60 engine (derived from the Russian NK-43 engine). The Orbital Vehicle also carries LOX/ethanol thrusters for orbital maneuvering and attitude control. Following payload separation, the Orbital Vehicle continues on orbit for about 24 hours, after which the LOX/ethanol orbital maneuvering system performs a de-orbit burn. After atmospheric re-entry, the Orbital Vehicle flies a guided re-entry path to a landing area near the launch site and deploys parachutes and air bags for touchdown.

Kistler's subcontractors are producing the major components of the vehicle, and several major milestones have been achieved. The K-1 vehicle was 75% complete, as measured by weight, as of January 2000. Northrop Grumman Corporation has been contracted to provide the vehicle structure and had completed 21 of the 23 major structural panels for the K-1, 11 while Aerojet has undertaken test firings of the modified AJ26 engines. Lockheed Martin Michoud had completed the liquid oxygen tanks. The parachute and airbag systems for the first stage have undergone a series of drop tests, and final vehicle assembly commenced in May 1998.

Kistler is planning to operate the K-1 vehicle from two launch sites, one in Woomera, Australia and one at the Nevada Test Site. Kistler received authorization from the Australian government to begin construction of launch facilities at Spaceport Woomera in April 1998 and held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site in June 1998. The launch pad designs are complete, and Kistler will conduct its initial flight tests and commercial operations from Woomera.

In October 1998, Kistler finalized a deal with the Nevada Test Site Development Corporation (NTSDC) to permit Kistler to occupy a segment of the Nevada Test Site (NTS) for its launch operations. Kistler is in pre-application processing with the FAA for permission to conduct launches from the NTS, with both stages returning to Earth at the NTS as well. Kistler also plans to construct a launch facility at the Woomera site in northern Australia for both test and launch operations.

Initial test flights of the K-1 were scheduled for 1998.

In May 2001 Kistler Aerospace Corporation received a $135 million award from NASA's Space Launch Initiative Program.

Kistler has completed a conceptual design for an Active Dispenser that will deploy payloads to medium Earth orbits (MEO), GTO, and interplanetary trajectories. The Active Dispenser will expand the K-1's capability beyond LEO (approximately 1,570 kilograms (3,462 pounds) to GTO or 900 to 1,400 kilograms (2,000 to 3,000 pounds) to interplanetary targets). The K-1's inherent reusability enables it to provide cargo re-supply and return services for the International Space Station (ISS), delivering approximately 3,200 kilograms (7,000 pounds) up-mass and recovering a minimum of 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds) down-mass to the launch site. The K-1 will launch vertically like a conventional ELV, but it will use a unique combination of parachutes and air bags to recover its two stages. Designed to operate with a small complement of ground personnel, this vehicle will be transported to the launch site and erected with a mobile transporter. The K-1 will measure approximately 37 meters (121 feet) in height and have a launch mass of 382,300 kilograms (843,000 pounds).

Kistler is supported by major U.S. aerospace contractors in the development of its K-1 vehicles and launch operations. The Kistler team includes Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, GenCorp Aerojet, Honeywell, Draper Laboratory, Oceaneering, Irvin Aerospace, ATA Engineering, and RS & H.

In July 2003 Kistler Aerospace Corp., which had attracted about $900 million in financing over the years, this week filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because it was unable keep funding its ambitious work on a cheap way to lift payloads into outer space. Court documents filed by Kistler indicate the Kirkland company owes $588 million, some of it disputed, while its assets are $6.2 million. The unsecured debts include $100 million to Aerojet-General Corp. of Rancho Cordova, Calif., which was developing rocket engines for Kistler; and $46.8 million to Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles, which was building many of the rocket fuselage sections. Kistler also owed at least $119 million in secured and unsecured claims to several affiliates of Bay Harbour Management L.C. in New York City, which has been one of Kistler's major funders.

In 2004 NASA announced its intent to award a contract to Kistler Aerospace Corporation to demonstrate the company's reusable launch vehicle that someday could carry cargo to the International Space Station. The contract was contingent on Kistler emerging from bankruptcy.

Kistler Aerospace Corporation announced on February 24, 2005, that the Bankruptcy Court in Seattle, Washington approved Kistler's Disclosure Statement to First Amended Plan of Reorganization. On March 29, 2005 Kistler Aerospace Corporation announced that the Bankruptcy Court in Seattle, Washington had entered an order confirming Kistler's Plan of Reorganization. This signaled the final step in the legal process for the company to exit Chapter 11. Kistler's successful restructuring enables the company to move forward with raising the capital necessary to complete the first K-1 vehicle, currently 75% complete [about where it was in late 1999], and conduct its first launch in 2007.

On 18 August 2006 NASA selected SpaceX, El Segundo, Calif. and Rocketplane-Kistler, Oklahoma City, to develop and demonstrate commercial orbital transportation services that could open new markets and pave the way for contracts to launch and deliver crew and cargo to the International Space Station. NASA and the two companies signed Space Act Agreements that establish milestones and objective criteria to assess their progress throughout Phase 1 of the competition. Once a capability is demonstrated, NASA plans to purchase crew and cargo delivery services competitively in Phase 2. "These companies were selected from a total of 20 applicants, based on solid engineering of innovative concepts and sound business plans," said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office at the Johnson Space Center, Houston.

In September 2007 NASA informed Congress it was terminating its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) because the company had failed to meet financial milestones. RpK had negotiated a July 31 deadline with NASA to raise $500 million in private funds to complete development of K-1. That would have freed more of the NASA funds, which were linked to technical and financial performance milestones. RpK failed to meet the deadline.

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Page last modified: 21-07-2011 00:47:25 ZULU