Type: private two-stage reusable launch vehicle
Powerplant: no details
Significant date: 1994-95
Kistler Aerospace Corporation (KAC) was created in the fall of 1993 in Redmond, Washington, with the aim of contributing to the design, development and profitable operation of a fleet of fully reusable vehicles. It was only a small company but it made quite a sensation after stating that it would not accept government money to build spacecraft. Kistler Aerospace had some solid space venture people behind it. Walt Kistler and Bob Citron were involved with the successful "Spacehab" middeck-extension module flown on Space Shuttle flights before they started Kistler Aerospace. Kistler also recruited senior managers from NASA, the Department of Defense, and American and European aerospace firms. Kistler's radical approach consisted of a "4-poster-bed" style first stage launch platform on which would sit a small unmanned second stage that would fire up and go to orbit. After releasing a payload, the second stage would return to earth, landing vertically onto a net. A series of conical vehicles of different sizes and capacity were to be built.
The company seemed to have startup funding in hand; HMX Inc. was doing engine development work for them under contract, one indicator that there was some money already. Yet, Kistler said they'd need $250 million total to get the K-1 into operation before the turn of the century. The one-ton class launch market addressed by the K-1 was expected to be undergoing rapid growth at that point. The company was said to be putting considerable effort into lining up funding for the K-1 development. Eventually, the company expected to develop a whole fleet which included: the K-1, with a payload of 2000 pounds to LEO starting around the turn of the century, and the K-2 which would carry 6000 pounds a starting a few years later. Eventually, Kistler also wanted to build the K-3, which could launch 20,000 lbs.
In the fall of 1995, work was going forward on the K-0 a subscale engineering test vehicle, a low-altitude proof-of-capability demonstrator, sort of a DC-X equivalent. Basically this was to be a subscale peroxide-powered zero stage, intended to build engineering team experience and investor confidence. Scaled Composites was selected to work on the prototype's assembly and testing. Hardware tests for the K-0 were conducted, and it was expected to fly sometime late in 1995. Interestingly, rocket engine hardware was developed by Dan DeLong, co-founder of Rotary Rocket (which went on to develop the Roton, also with help from Scaled) and still later co-founder of XCOR Aerospace, which has developed the EZ-Rocket as a proof-of-concept vehicle for the orbital launcher Xerus.
Kistler released little public information, and management and engineering shakeups occured, which affected the design and timeline for the fleet. The K-0 project was officially cancelled for financial reasons, although the unofficial story is one of gross mismanagement and lack of experience. Kistler had to reconsider its options and quickly find an efficient way to get its space venture restarted, by completely redefining the project and settling on the final configuration of the K-1.
Population: 1 (almost completed, then cancelled)