Struggling to emerge from bankruptcy and resume development of its K-1 reusable launch vehicle, Kistler Aerospace has appointed two ex-Boeing executives to take over management of the company. Randy Brinkley, former president of Boeing Satellite Systems, has been appointed chief executive, and Will Trafton, formerly general manager of Boeing's expendable launch services business, has become president.
The appointments came after NASA withdrew a contract to pay Kistler $227 million to buy data from flight tests of the K-1. The controversial contract was a key part of Kistler's plans to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but was awarded without competition. This led to a formal protest by private-venture launch vehicle developer Space Exploration Technologies (Space X), which was upheld in June by the US Government Accountability Office.
Kirkland, Washington-based Kistler filed for Chapter 11 in July 2003, citing $600 million in debts. Since 1995, the company has been run by Dr George Meuller, who now becomes chairman but continues as chief vehicle architect for the K-1. Brinkley and Trafton come from parts of Boeing hit by the commercial satellite downturn - and ethics violations that led to the Delta launch business being suspended from receiving US Department of Defense (DoD) contracts.
Supported by largest creditor Bay Harbour Management, Kistler hopes to emerge from bankruptcy protection by year-end and complete assembly of the K-1 by mid-2006. Designed to be reused 100 times, the two-stage K-1 uses Russian kerosene-fuelled engines and will be launched from Woomera, Australia.
SpaceX, meanwhile, plans to launch its first Falcon 1 expendable booster in the fourth quarter, carrying a US DoD payload. The vehicle is scheduled to be transferred to the pad at Vandenberg AFB, California in September. The company intends to launch after conducting a short-duration hold-down firing.
Two more Falcon 1 flights are planned for 2005, from the US Marshall Islands in the Pacific: in the second quarter under a tentative DoD deal; and in the fourth quarter under a confirmed contract with an international government. Also in 2005, SpaceX plans the first launch of its larger Falcon V booster, from Vandenberg, carrying a prototype inflatable space structure for Bigelow Aerospace.
GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC