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Local company ready for unmanned rocket launches

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Spaceport Indiana, a private company out to play a leading role in commercial space flight, will head skyward this weekend.

The Columbus-based company will begin an ambitious series of unmanned rocket launches with its first lift-off scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Columbus Municipal Airport. Tickets to watch are on sale for $10 via Spaceport Indiana’s website,

One ticket holder will be selected to join the company’s official launch crew.

“This is a first in Indiana history as a facility, based in Indiana, will begin routine unmanned rocket launches of various sizes,” said Spaceport executive director Brian Tanner.

He said the company also is accepting applications from colleges, students and corporate clients from which it will pick three small payloads to put into space up to 200 nautical miles above the Earth’s surface this summer.

The low-cost space shots will cost a $250 application fee and another $250 launch cost, Tanner said.

Private outfits such as Spaceport are trying to create more opportunities for corporations and academic researchers to reach space in addition to flight opportunity programs run by NASA. Tanner said Spaceport Indiana is developing and testing alternative fuel rockets itself and for outside clients.

Tanner said he thinks of Spaceport Indiana’s connection to commercial space flight much as people who snow ski think of Aspen, Colo.

“If someone is thinking of going to Aspen, Colo., to ski, they can rent equipment there or bring their own. They can get advice or lessons from the professional staff in Aspen,” Tanner said.

“We work pretty much the same way. We are developing our own rockets, and (clients) can use those. Or maybe someone brings their own rocket and just uses our launch facilities,” he said. “You can bring your own staff, too, or use ours.”

Tanner said the commercial space industry has been building under the radar for at least a decade, and it’s ready to blossom in the next couple of years.

Spaceport Indiana offers telemetry, tracking, GPS, communications, guidance and air space management services, and hopes to become a key facility regionally and nationally for low-orbit unmanned flights.

“Everything we do is unmanned,” Tanner said. “There are all sorts of hybrid rockets being created by the commercial space industry, private companies, academic researchers. We’re seeing new types of fuels emerge, non-typical types of rockets.”

Tanner said Spaceport Indiana, which also offers science workshops for students, expects to pick up its launch pace in 2013 and 2014.

In the next few months, the company plans to launch several different kinds of payloads — from telecommunications products to ozone testing devices for researchers — although there are weight and size restrictions because of rocket sizes.

Spaceport Indiana also has science workshops for students and plans to continue those educational out-reach efforts.

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