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Rocketplane says delay sign of hard task

By Ja’Rena Lunsford Published: August 31, 2007
The wait for a trip to space on a Rocketplane aircraft may not be light-years away — but it doesn't seem to be coming soon.

Last week, a company official said Rocketplane will begin test flights on its suborbital vehicle in 2009, with commercial flights beginning in 2010 — a year later than the company reported this spring.

This isn't the first time the launch year for the company's XP spacecraft has changed. In 2004, the company reported commercial flights would begin in 2007.

George French, Rocketplane's chief executive officer, said the delay is not a sign that the company is backing out of its plans to transport the public to space. He said it's a sign that accomplishing that task is easier said than done.

"This is rocket science, and it's not easy,” French said.

The science part is not the only difficult task the aerospace company is dealing with. French said although the company has received public funding — the state Legislature granted Rocketplane $15 million in tax credits over five years — funding needs have caused the XP project to be pushed back since its inception.

"We are technologically further ahead than we are financially,” he said. "We'll have to raise money. Period.”

While Rocketplane works out the details of its anticipated launch, the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority is anticipating the arrival of Rocketplane and other companies that will use the Oklahoma Spaceport.

"We're ready for Rocketplane and any and all comers,” OSIDA Executive Director Bill Khourie said. Khourie said a new security fence and other enhancements are in the works at the spaceport, which he hopes will become a full-service facility.

Although the spaceport is ready for Rocketplane, Patrick Bahn said the Burns Flat facility is not ready for his company, TGV Rockets.

Bahn said the Norman-based company, which plans to launch cameras into space using rockets, will not be able to launch from its home state because of the logistics of the spaceport.

"The spaceport authority has consistently declined to put in an operator's license for vertical take off and vertical landing,” said Bahn, chief executive of TGV.

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