OK Creates Agency to Develop Space Travel Industry

Article excerpt

Our Legislature made the right decision when it set up the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority, according to a Baltimore venture capitalist.

The only thing is, according to Arthur Aubrey, there must be more publicity on the plan to bring space launches and related activities to western Oklahoma.

You are doing the right thing, creating a governmental body to supervise the operation, yet going into partnership with private enterprise, he told the authority.

His presentation to the OSIDA was a history lesson on how major cities developed early in our history.

At one point, Philadelphia was the largest city in the United States, but New York wanted that honor, so they started the Erie Canal, he said. That brought new goods and services into New York and provided an outlet for goods manufactured in New York.

There are dangers in this area, he cautioned, pointing out that some city-tax-supported ventures were too stringent, primarily with only one big private enterprise entity.

But from what I have seen here, you are avoiding that problem, he said. You are offering the infrastructure, complete with tax incentives, for a company to operate. At the same time, you are encouraging any and all viable companies to participate. This will keep it from becoming a corrupt operation.

The authority is heading efforts to turn the former Clinton- Sherman Air Force Base at Burns Flat into a huge space development complex.

Space is one of the next big transportation frontiers. It's appropriate Oklahoma is one of 14 states setting up launch sites, because the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is really not in the commercial launch business.

Another development, said board member Chris Shove, is that several companies are developing nano- and micro-satellites, some as small as credit cards.

These tiny satellites won't need the powerful rockets that NASA operates to get a huge payload into orbit, he said. We are developing this at the right time, because launch companies are interested in using less expensive vehicles.

Manufacturers of these nano- and micro-satellites naturally will want to be near the space launch center, so maybe we could attract a few of them to Oklahoma.

Shove made his comments in reporting on a commercialization conference that he attended in France.

When I talked about what we have here in Oklahoma, several companies, many of them satellite manufacturers, expressed an interest and want to view what we have, he said.

In the 11 months the board has been active, at least five companies have signed memorandums of understanding, stating their intention to operate at Burns Flat or the former Air Force base.

Two companies, TGV Rockets of Bethesda, Md., and Pioneer Rocketplane of Ann Arbor, Mich., have started seeking funding.

Patrick Bahn, TGV's chief executive, said one of the drawbacks keeping companies from entering the space program is insurance.

To counter this, board member Chris Shove suggested the authority become an insurance pool, writing policies that individual companies would buy. This would substantially lower the cost for insurance while protecting the public.

Aubrey attended the meeting as a venture capitalist interested in investing in the TGV Rockets plan. He inspected Burns Flat and the abandoned Air Force base. He also studied commission documents, along with state laws, as part of the due diligence prior to investing.

I must say that I am impressed, he said. You need to do a better job of informing the world what you have out there, though.

Friends and co-workers joked with him when he said he was going to Oklahoma to investigate a space launch site. …