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Rocketplane beat to rocket-launch punch by Texas company

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A rocket-powered vehicle launched from the Oklahoma Spaceport in Burns Flat on June 2. But this was not the rocket from Rocketplane Inc., into which the state of Oklahoma poured $18 million.

No, this rocket, built by Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace, actually flies.

Burns Flat is home to the state's only federally licensed spaceport. The state used millions to renovate the facility for space flight. Oklahoma taxpayers forked over additional millions in a tax credit to Rocketplane, at the behest of lawmakers and agency officials, intended for building a rocket ship that would use the spaceport as home base for a space tourism industry.

However, it was Armadillo Aerospace's Pixel, taking off at the Oklahoma Spaceport, that behaved the way everyone expects a spaceship to perform.

"It was an absolutely perfect trajectory. We were hoping to accomplish exactly what the vehicle did," said Phil Eaton, a member of Armadillo's team of designers.

In 2003, what is now Rocketplane Inc. was awarded an $18 million tax credit from the state to help build a ship that would take passengers up into suborbital space for a few minutes of exhilaration.

Now, Armadillo can drink the champagne while Rocketplane's glasses are still in the cupboard.

Rocketplane recently announced its launch date has been pushed back to late 2009 at the earliest. By last report, its rocket sits unfinished in a hanger in Guthrie. A call to request a photograph of its current state of progress was not returned.   "Scott Cooper and Ben Fenwick


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