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Ohio space plans advance

The state of Ohio has followed up on its intentions to make a spaceport deal with an offer of incentives to Planetspace, a Canadian-American rocket venture that's thinking of putting its base of operations at Columbus' Rickenbacker International Aiport. Planetspace's chairman says the offer is roughly in line with his $20 million expectations. "We're very excited and very encouraged about it," Indian-American entrepreneur Chirinjeev Kathuria told me today. "We would definitely want to move forward in the state of Ohio."

Kathuria said he received a preliminary version of the state's incentive offer last week, with follow-up letters from the city of Columbus and Franklin County on the way. The details would be ironed out over the next 60 days, he said. Those comments confirmed a report published in The Columbus Dispatch on Wednesday. 

The deal would serve as an enticement for PlanetSpace to put its suborbital rocket facility at Rickenbacker, which currently is used primarily for cargo flights. "The offer includes tax credits, grants and other incentives," Kathuria told me.

All this is aimed at setting up a space tourism operation in America's heartland, with passengers lifting off from a Midwestern site, rising to altitudes in excess of 62 miles (100 kilometers), then landing at Rickenbacker. The passenger craft would be a space plane based on a design pioneered in the 1960s, launched atop an updated version of the V-2 rocket used in World War II.

Kathuria and his principal partner in PlanetSpace, Canadian Arrow's Geoff Sheerin, are aiming to start suborbital flights by the end of 2008. Once commercial service starts, passengers would pay in the neighborhood of $200,000 per seat for rides to the edge of space.

Lots has to be done between now and then, including licensing and spacecraft development. What's more, PlanetSpace is facing plenty of rivals out there. But Kathuria - who made millions in the telecom and medical-equipment industry, and spent some of that money to help keep Russia's Mir space station going until its demise in 2001 - says his PlanetSpace plans are still on schedule.