Trade magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology is reporting in its July 2 issue that Rocketplane Kistler has laid off a key manager in the development of the company's suborbital spacecraft, David Urie (pictured).
Urie, who worked as the Lockheed program manager on the SR-71 spy plane as well as other cutting-edge projects for Lockheed-Martin, came to Oklahoma to work on Rocketplane's XP space plane, meant to take off from Oklahoma Spaceport at Burns Flat and carry tourists to the edge of space. The craft was to be based on a Learjet 25 fuselage.
In 2003, Rocketplane Limited Inc., which combined into what is now Rocketplane Inc., was awarded an $18 million tax credit from the state to help build a ship that would launch from Burns Flat and take passengers up into suborbital space for a few minutes of exhilaration.
Now called Rocketplane Global after several name changes, the Oklahoma company recently said it was postponing the plane's first flight until 2009.
Rocketplane Kistler Chief Executive Officer Randy Brinkley said the plane is on hold because the company is concentrating on acquiring $500 million to qualify for NASA's matching funds through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.
"Our funding on the K-1 and Rocketplane Kistler is totally separate from the funding on the suborbital side," Brinkley was quoted as saying in Aviation Week. "We certainly can't use NASA money from COTS to do anything on the suborbital vehicle."
Rocketplane Kistler was awarded a $200 million NASA contract last year to build a rocket capable of transporting cargo to and from the International Space Station. The company failed to meet a funding deadline for NASA in May and has reworked the agreement to continue the project, as first reported by Oklahoma Gazette.
Robert Seto, Rocketplane Kistler chief of staff, also has left to become program manager for the Ball Aerospace Corp. in Huntsville, Ala., according to a company press release. He will help the company pursue a contract to provide integration and production support to NASA for the Ares I Instrument, a system currently being designed to replace the Space Shuttle after its 2010 retirement.
Officials with Rocketplane and Ball Aerospace did not return phone calls. "Scott Cooper and Ben Fenwick