Is Rocketplane Inc. in dire financial straits, or are they make progress on financing? Conflicting messages about the health of the company have been published this week. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) first reported Tuesday that the company had yet to close a $500-million financing round for the K-1 orbital vehicle that had been due at the end of July, and reported that the lead contractor for the K-1, ATK, had suspended work on the project. The Journal followed that up on Thursday with news that the company was laying off employees and issuing stop-work orders to subcontractors because of the financing problems.
A report Thursday in Rocketplane’s hometown newspaper, The Oklahoman, paints a more optimistic picture of the company’s circumstances. Company CEO George French blamed recent problems in the stock market for the company’s difficulty in lining up financing, but said Rocketplane was “making headway” in its financing. (Thursday’s WSJ article also suggests that Rocketplane was affected by investors who became jittery after the Scaled Composites accident last month.)
Without that financing, Rocketplane’s COTS award is in jeopardy (the company has to raise the $500 million to meet its next milestone). The Journal claims that a failure by Rocketplane to raise that money “creates significant policy and budget uncertainties” for NASA, although the agency is, in the worst-case scenario, only out the money it awarded to date to Rocketplane, and there are other companies, like SpaceDev and t/Space, waiting in the wings should NASA terminate its existing deal with Rocketplane. A failure in the K-1 development could bode ill for the XP suborbital vehicle, which has languished to some degree while the company has put most of its resources towards the K-1.