Mergers in private space travel

Specialist in private space travel buys small jet-engineering company to help develop commercial rockets.

Space Adventures, an outfit for private space travel, said Tuesday that it agreed to buy a small jet engineering company, in a move to develop proprietary commercial rockets in the United States.

Virginia-based Space Adventures, which took the first tourist to the International Space Station in 2001 and charges millions for the privilege, agreed to buy Space Launch, a California-based developer of jet propulsion technologies.

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Under the deal, which is expected to close in the next two months, Space Adventures will maintain Space Launch as a wholly owned subsidiary in order to develop aerospace technologies for a future tourist program for travel in suborbital space in the United States. Space Adventures' past tourist trips to the International Space Station have largely been possible through the Russian Space Agency and a contract with the Myasishchev Design Bureau, a private Russian engineer of space vehicles.

"While Space Adventures will remain focused on the marketing of space flights as a space travel company, the acquisition of Space Launch will enhance our access to, and in-depth knowledge of, cutting-edge aerospace technology," Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson said in a statement.

Space Launch, founded in 1999, develops space vehicles for companies and governments aiming to launch micro-satellites into orbit. The California-based company had worked with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Defense's research arm, for nearly three years, but its contract ended in 2005.

Through its sale to Space Adventures, the company will focus solely on developing propulsion technologies and vehicles for commercial space travel, according to its founder, Jacob Lopata, who will remain as chief of Space Launch. He would not detail the technologies the company is developing.

Lopata said that space tourism is expected to be a billion-dollar market within the next 10 years. Technology advances and events like the Ansari X Prize, a relatively new $10 million contest for private spacecraft, have made that a possibility, he said.

"A lot of things have come together in the last few years to make the viability of space tourism much higher," Lopata said.

In the past few years, the skies have become a new frontier for entrepreneurs and academics. PayPal founder Elon Musk has started SpaceX, a private company that hopes to launch rockets for satellite deployment, similar to the more heavily funded Sea Launch venture.

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