Rocketplane leaves Oklahoma, not Earth's atmosphere


Jul. 30--Launching space tourism has been a financial black hole for Rocketplane Global.

The company closed its Oklahoma City headquarters at Will Rogers World Airport several months ago and relinquished its hangar at the Oklahoma Spaceport in Burns Flat, Rocketplane President and Chief Executive George French said Wednesday.

An $18 million tax credit in 2003, at least $10 million in equity, other investments and efforts to raise capital by selling tickets to the moon barely have been enough to keep the company afloat.

"We've stayed alive, but it's not easy," French said.

Relocating most of the company's employees and operations to Wisconsin was necessary because they could no longer afford the office in Oklahoma City, he said. A few key employees remain in the state, he said.

French said Rocketplane has struggled to compete for investors' dollars with Virgin Galactic, a "spaceline" that Tuesday announced a $280 million-plus partnership with Aabar Investments in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates.

Rocketplane fulfilled its tax obligations in Oklahoma and the $18 million was spent on "employees' 200,000 hours of design work," French said.

The criteria for the tax credit Rocketplane received were that the company be based in Oklahoma, qualify for the state's Quality Jobs Program and have at least $10 million in equity, said Paula Ross, Oklahoma Tax Commission spokeswoman.

The credit, which relieved Rocketplane of up to $18 million in tax liability or insurance premiums, lasted five years, she said.

Two letdowns

Vic Bird, director of the Oklahoma Aerospace Commission, said Rocketplane's departure from the state is likely to have little effect on the state's aerospace industry.

"Our aerospace industry has shown tremendous growth and emerged as a true pillar of the economy," he said. "But you had two bad investments: Great Plains Airlines and Rocketplane."

However, the Oklahoma Spaceport officials are talking with NASA and Boeing about potential uses for the site, he said.