What Ever Happened To Reusable Launch Vehicles
The simple truth is that we do not know how to make reusables and we cannot make a good business case for them. Many have tried, but all have failed. Most recently NASA spent over one billion dollars trying to build a scaled down technology demonstrator, the X-33.
This was to be the forerunner for a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle, VentureStar. In 2000, after several years of trying to build the demonstrator, the program was shut down. The needed technology was simply not ready.
Walter Kistler started a reusable launch vehicle company around 1993 to pursue a two-stage-to-orbit, fully reusable vehicle. Kistler Aerospace raised over $500 million in private funds and proceeded to construct the first prototype, the K-1.
But, the vehicle got too expensive and the perceived market disappeared when Iridium filed for bankruptcy at the turn of the century. Kistler Aerospace was liquidated before completing that first vehicle.
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