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February 13, 2007
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Rocket rides to launch from Hawaii

HONOLULU - An Oklahoma-based aerospace company wants to use Hawaii as its launching pad to send intrepid tourists up 330,000 feet to the edge of outer space.

Rocket plane Kistler Inc. hopes to start testing modified business jets next year that would take off from a commercial runway and then use rocket packs to carry them into space. And the company is looking to have the rides up and away by 2010 with tickets initially costing about $250,000.

But those plans remain a long way off from reality.

Still needed are full financing for the venture and an official commitment of support from the state.

Oahu's many tourists make the island an attractive location for the flights, said Charles Lauer, vice president for business development for Rocketplane Kistler.

Also, "the flying weather is great, and the views of the entire island chain and the ocean from space will be spectacular," he said.

The company has been talking with the state about developing a space-themed education and training facility at Kalaeloa, which would support space flights between Honolulu and Kona International Airport. It also wants to collaborate with the University of Hawaii on space related research.

Rocketplane Kistler is one of a small number of companies planning to enter the space tourism market. Richard Branson's Virgin galactic is looking to flying tourists from New Mexico to space's frontier starting in 2009.

Rocketplane Kistler's XM Spaceplanes are explected to begin trials late next year with flights beginning in Oklahoma in 2009.

"The technology is quite sound," said Edward Ellegood, director of interinstitutional programs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, based in Daytona Beach, Fla. "So it isn't a technology leap so much as a business challenge."

The main hurdle for Rocketplane Kistler will be financial, he said.

The company has so far raised $25 million of the $150 million needed to field a commercial fleet of space planes, Lauer said.

To use a Hawaii airport for the flights, the state would first need to obtain a Federal Aviation Administration licensing as a spaceport. Obtaining that license is among a number of aerospace measures making their ways through this year's Hawaii Legislature.


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The VailDaily Updated Feb 13, 2007 06:07PM Published Feb 13, 2007 06:07PM Copyright 2007 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.