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PlanetSpace inks landmark deal with Lockheed, Alliant

Last updated on: January 17, 2008 10:29 IST
PlanetSpace, a company led by Dr Chirinjeev Kathuria, won half the battle to get a contract from NASA, when it managed to bring space heavyweights Lockheed Martin and Alliant Techsystems as its partners. Bank of Montreal too is part of the venture.

The mission is to build an unmanned spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

"NASA is retiring its current space shuttles by 2010. They want private space companies to take up the job of the space shuttles. We have submitted a project to build a low-cost alternative to the space shuttle. We expect that we will win the bid when the decision is announced in February," Dr Kathuria told India Abroad.

The alliance with Lockheed Martin, which designs most of the spacecraft for NASA and ATK, makers of rocket launchers for NASA, has put PlanetSpace in an advantageous position, he feels. Lockheed Martin will design the new spacecraft to be used in place of the space shuttle. ATK will develop the booster rocket.

PlanetSpace would take on the role of prime contractor, managing the overall effort and rounding up funding for the venture. BMO Capital Markets would assist PlanetSpace as financial adviser for acquisitions as well as debt and equity deals.

'From what we looked at in our experience base, this is something that's very achievable,' Al Simpson, director of advanced programs for human spaceflight at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, said.

Called Modular Cargo Carrier, the new spacecraft will be designed to dock at the ISS.

"Since Lockheed Martin has built several spacecraft earlier, the new design will cost only about $500 million. Otherwise, the cost could have been about $2.5 billion," Dr Kathuria noted.

First published in India Abroad But NASA will give only $175

million to the winner of the bid. "That is not a problem," Dr Kathuria said. "The company expects to get more contracts from NASA. We also expect delivery of satellite payloads. Space tourism, point to point cargo service and astronaut training are other areas that we will concentrate," he said.

'We see the strength of our PlanetSpace team as being attributable to shared business objectives in creating a viable, long term commercial cargo/satellite business. a key objective of NASA's program,' said Joel Crook, program director, advanced programs at ATK.

'NASA's hope is that a little financial push now will lead to low-cost launches later -- to help bridge the gap between the shuttle fleet's scheduled retirement in 2010 and the debut of the Orion-Ares launch system in 2013 or later,' experts noted.

PlanetSpace's earlier project of space tourism is moving well, Dr Kathuria said.

PlanetSpace is currently developing the Silver Dart, a launch vehicle to send space tourists to sub-orbital level from its base in Nova Scotia, Canada. But the current one is an orbital project and the Silver Dart cannot be used for that.

PlanetSpace faces strong competition to its bid. California-based SpaceDev is offering its Dream Chaser space plane as a potential cargo carrier. Texas-based Spacehab and Virginia-based Transformational Space are two other companies bidding for the contract.

India-born Kathuria, a medical doctor who made his fortune in the telecommunication and medical instrument industries, began his involvement with space seven years ago when he provided millions of dollars to support Russia's Mir space station. The Mir station sent the first tourist to the space. Over two years ago, he joined with Canadian Arrow rocket expert Geoff Sheering to set up PlanetSpace.

George Joseph in New York