Rocketplane: A Space Tourism Post Mortem

The late Rocketplane which was to have flown from Oklahoma.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an account of George French’s odyssey from billboard king to bankrupt NewSpace entrepreneur. His Rocketplane Global and Rocketplane Kistler ventures were once in prime positions to capture large shares of both the suborbital space tourism market and commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station. And yet both efforts collapsed amid funding woes, multiple bankruptcy filings, and a flood of lawsuits from unpaid employees and vendors.

For NewSpace advocates, this is a sad story. But, it’s really not unusual. A vast majority of start ups fail, for a whole host of reasons ranging from mismanagement to simply bad timing. Rocketplane is certainly not the first — nor will it be the last — NewSpace company to fail.

Rocketplane Global Expects to Begin Suborbital Space Tourist Flights in 2013

Rocketplane Global Vice President Chuck Lauer said today that the company expects to begin flying space tourists on suborbital rides out of Cecil Field in Jacksonville by 2013. Rocketplane has signed a letter of intent with the Jacksonville Aviation Authority to become the first commercial space operator to use the former Naval air base turned spaceport, Lauer told attendees at Space Access ’10 in Phoenix.

Lauer  said that that Rocketplane would fund development of its six-person space plane as part of a $300 million project that would also create a Spaceport Visitor’s Center at the Jacksonville site. The center would include full motion 3D/HD suborbital flight simulators that would allow visitors to experience a 4-minute version of the 45-minute spaceflight that well-heeled passengers will fly aboard Rocketplane’s suborbital vehicle.

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Skepticism Over Rocketplane Global’s Supermarket Sales Strategy

rocketplane

Trip to space in aisle 4
MinnPost

Some scoff at Penny Markt customers’ prospects of even getting airborne. “I saw the story and laughed my head off,” said Scott Cooper, a reporter at the Oklahoma Gazette who has been following Rocketplane’s activities since it first landed in Oklahoma. “In the 10 years they’ve been going they have never built a ship, and they have broken promise after promise after promise.”

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Rocketplane Global: Stranger and Stranger

rocketplane

Rocketplane Global’s snake bitten efforts at launching a suborbital tourism business have taken another curious turn.

When we last left the story, Rocketplane had laid off most of its employees, abandoned its base in Oklahoma for Wisconsin, and needed in excess of $100 million just to get to the first flight of its prototype.

This week, it emerged that the company is selling tickets for its non-existent space plane in an Austrian discount supermarket:

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Oklahoma Spaceport Still Operational Just Without the “Space” Part

rocketplane
Rocketplane Global recently shuttered its office in Oklahoma - dealing a blow to the state's efforts to create a commercial spaceport.

Despite Rocketplane Woes, Oklahoma Spaceport Remains Operational
Oklahoma Gazette

“We’ve really been concentrating on the aerospace side,” said Bill Khourie, executive director of the Oklahoma Space Industrial Development Authority (OSIDA), which operates the Spaceport. “I made a presentation to Boeing Commercial Aircraft last year. They would like to have us on their list to test flights.”

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Oklahoma Reconsidering Tax Breaks After Investments Fizzle

Okla. lawmakers study tax breaks to risky ventures
Associated Press

Businesses and many economists say Oklahoma needs to offer corporate tax breaks to expand its economy and remain competitive with other states hoping to lure new jobs. “For us to be able to bring the quality jobs that Oklahomans long for and deserve, we must have these tools,” said state commerce secretary Natalie Shirley.

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Is Rocketplane Kaput?

rocketplane

(Thanks to Clark Lindsey at Hobby Space for the link)

After $18 Million, RocketPlane Only Launched Empty Promise for Oklahoma
OK Gazette

A drive by the Will Rogers World Airport is all one needs to know something has gone awry. Along Amelia Earhart Drive sits the office of Rocketplane, home to what might have been America’s first commercial space flight passenger company. Based out of the Oklahoma City office for nearly five years, engineers and executives plotted and tested their plans for building a rocket ship.

But today, the doors are locked, the windows are dark and a “For Lease” sign stands outside the office.

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Funding for Oklahoma Spaceport Questioned

Oklahoma

Unlike its brethren in California, New Mexico and Sweden, the Oklahoma Spaceport has been keeping a low profile. So low, in fact, that the last update on its website’s News page is dated June 1, 2007 – nearly two years ago.

With its major tenant, Rocketplane Global, struggling to find financing for its suborbital spacecraft, things have been quiet. Far too quiet for at least one member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, NewsOK reports:

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