The summer was anything but a vacation for Kistler Aerospace, the 4-year-old start-up that is building a fleet of reusable launch vehicles to ferry satellites and other payloads into low Earth orbit. Kistler’s K-1 is a two-stage launch vehicle, and both stages will contain special rockets and parachutes to guide the pieces back to Earth for reuse.
At the company’s plush executive offices in Westwood, Chairman Robert Wang--who has raised more than $1 million for the company in the last two years--is on the verge of securing a launch site at the Nevada Test Site in northeast Nevada, where the U.S. Department of Energy conducted nuclear tests. The nonprofit NTS Development Corp. last month won a 10-year permit to encourage commercial development there, and Kistler aims to become the first tenant. The Energy Department has already given Kistler its approval, and construction could begin in October or November, Wang said.
Meanwhile, Kistler’s five main contractors are swinging into action. In Sacramento, Aerojet received 34 jet engines from Russia three weeks ago and will retrofit them for Kistler vehicles. Vehicle assembly is expected to begin at Northrop Grumman in February or March, Mueller said.
Kistler plans to begin offering launches in 1999 for $17 million apiece, roughly half of what its competitors charge. Space Systems/Loral signed a $100-million contract for 10 Kistler launches earlier this year.