Originally created 06/11/04

Company pitches space travel



AIKEN - A rocket-launching company hoping to do business in Aiken County entertained listeners Thursday with ambitions of colonizing the moon, along with near-term goals of creating a big-time commercial shipping program into space.

Representatives with E'Prime Aerospace Corp., speaking before a gathering of business and community leaders at the University of South Carolina Aiken, outlined their plans to build a $300 million rocket factory in Aiken County that would create a commercial space program and a long-term space tourism business fueled by nuclear propulsion technology they hope to access at the Savannah River National Laboratory.

With its rights to the old Peacekeeper ballistic missile, the 11-employee Titusville, Fla., company hopes to grab a piece of the $2.5 billion space-launching business that went untapped in the U.S. last year. France, Russia and China are currently way ahead, said Bob Davis, the president and CEO of E'Prime.

The Peacekeeper's modular system and well-honed accuracy would allow the company to deliver commercial satellites used to provide telephone and television services faster and with less fuel than foreign companies can, Mr. Davis said.

But first the company needs a rocket plant, which would be built by its partner, Omega Space Systems of Memphis, Tenn., Mr. Davis said. He and other company representatives like Aiken not only because of the national laboratory, but also because of its access to the Savannah River, which could be used to ship parts.

Once the company's rocket factory is built, E'Prime estimates it could make at least $800 million over a four year period, said Darron Purifoy, the company's vice president of operations and governmental affairs.

Economic officials are still trying to reach an agreement with the company to locate in Aiken County. If it happens, E'Prime estimates it would create as many as 600 jobs, mostly blue collar.

"You got to start somewhere," said Aiken County Councilman Chuck Smith. "This is exactly the kind of opportunity we're looking for."

Mr. Purifoy said the company hopes to develop nuclear propulsion capabilities with expertise from the national lab, using the moon as a launching pad to explore further.

"You couldn't do it any other way," Mr. Davis said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) ww279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

E'Prime Aerospace Corp. plans to return within the next two weeks with representatives of Omega Space Systems to tour the Aiken County site.