Sep. 27, 2006 at 12:36 AM ET
Orbital Sciences Corp., the company that was supposed to provide guidance (and a few million dollars as well) for Rocketplane Kistler's bid to build a new orbital spaceship for NASA, says it's parting ways with the team. However, Rocketplane Kistler's president, Randy Brinkley, told Space News that his company already has lined up a replacement strategic partner that will serve at least as well. A couple of months ago, the Orbital-Rocketplane relationship looked as if it would serve as the paradigm for bridges between "Old Space" and "New Space." So what happened?
The speculation from folks such as Transterrestrial Musings' Rand Simberg is that the rules of the rocket game are shifting somewhat. Orbital had been a partner on Lockheed Martin's team for NASA's Orion moonship, and when Lockmart won that multibillion-dollar contract, Orbital may have decided it was better to concentrate on the Orion product line rather than Rocketplane Kistler's K-1 craft.
Or it might merely have been the kind of business conflict that often arises when two companies think they should be in the driver's seat of a joint venture. After all, Orbital had its own ideas about how to fill NASA's needs for resupplying the international space station - and it may have tried to adapt some of those ideas for the Rocketplane contract, even though NASA took a pass on them the first time around.
If nothing else, the Orbital separation illustrates that the course toward truly affordable spaceflight will not always run smooth. It's worth noting as well that Lockheed Martin is also a member of Rocketplane Kistler's team, so there's still an "Old Space" connection.
Here are Rocketplane Kistler's "talking points" for its side of the story, which Rand posted last night, and which I received independently even later last night: