Oklahoma space flights in 2006 seen


Saturday, January 10th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A company hopes to develop a rocket plane for manned suborbital spaceflights that would use a spaceport in Burns Flat.

Rocketplane Limited Inc. is among a number of companies trying to develop a prototype suborbital, reusable launch vehicle that would carry passengers into space.

The spaceport at the old Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base has the fourth-largest runway in the nation.

The cost of a suborbital trip would be about $100,000 a trip, officials of the company said Friday.

``Oklahoma is on the cutting edge in this new field of civil and commercial space transportation,'' said Sen. Gilmer Capps, D-Snyder, chairman of the Senate Aerospace and Technology Committee.

``Reusable launch vehicles will bring down the cost of the space travel experience and could eventually make Oklahoma a hub for commercial space activity,'' he said at a news conference Friday.

George French, president of Rocketplane Limited, said flights available to the public could begin as early as September 2006.

Officials said Oklahoma is in a good location for space flights because of its location in the middle of the country and favorable weather.

They said making the suborbital flights financially feasible will require about 200 flights a year from the Oklahoma spaceport.

French's company is developing the Rocketplane XP launch vehicle, which will be designed to take off and land like an airplane, but also will have a reusable rocket engine that will propel it from 30,000 feet to over 60 miles in altitude.

Rocketplane Limited will take space travelers 60 miles above Earth for ``an incredible view'' and they will experience zero gravity for three to four minutes before returning to the landing strip at Burns Flat, French said.

He said the reusable launch vehicles also can carry scientific experiments into space to perform research in zero gravity or to qualify experiments for use on the International Space Station.

French said Oklahoma was chosen as a launch site because of its spaceport infrastructure and the state's commitment to the project.

The company has been certified as a qualified space transportation vehicle provider by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Oklahoma Space Development Authority and the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Certification allows investors in the Rocketplane Limited to qualify for state tax credits of up to 59.9 percent.

Plans call for building the vehicle's engine in Oklahoma City and assembling it at Burns Flat.

In December, a rocket plane being privately developed by another company broke the sound barrier over California's Mojave Desert during its first powered flight, which topped out at 68,000 feet, or about 13 miles.