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NRI joins race for NASA's conquest

Kathuria's Chicago-based firm PlanetSpace is at the forefront of the race to build NASA's new cargo and crew spaceship.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2007 11:59 IST

PlanetSpace, a Chicago-based firm engaged in niche commercial space business and co-founded by Indian American entrepreneur Chirinjeev Kathuria, is at the forefront of the race to build US space agency NASA's new cargo and crew spaceship.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is planning to retire its space shuttle fleet - Atlantis, Endeavour and Discovery - by 2010.

Its next spacecraft is the Orion and it is not due to fly until 2015, leaving a five-year period where NASA will be unable to deliver crew and cargo on its own spacecraft to the International Space Station.

"PlanetSpace, Lockheed Martin and ATK have now teamed up to build the cargo and crew spaceship, for which the consortium has given a proposal to NASA," New Delhi-born Kathuria told IANS from Chicago.

"To build a new orbital spacecraft the development costs could be as high as $2.5 billion," he said.

According to Kathuria, NASA is expected to pick one or more companies for the project by the first quarter of next year.

Kathuria's PlanestSpace has also made forays into making space tourism a reality as well as working on quick transportation of cargo.

To help promote competition and bring the cost of space travel down from its present costly system NASA is encouraging private firms to step up and offer services to NASA for this critical system. NASA, like the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is looking to expand its operations to the moon.

As part of this strategy, NASA developed a Commercial Orbital Transport Services (COTS) programme that is intended to develop commercial space in the US.

NASA will award $175 million to the chosen consortium(s).

An additional $200 million may also be made available for orbital crew delivery on approval by Congress.

PlanetSpace, as per Kathuria, submitted its proposal to NASA to flight demonstrate cargo and crew delivery capability to the international space station (ISS) in response to NASA's COTS Phase 1 RFP.

"We have been working closely with our Lockheed Martin, ATK, and (financial firm) BMO teammates over the past six months to develop an innovative, low risk business plan that can deliver cargo to the ISS economically and has the added benefits of providing low cost launch services to commercial and NASA customers," said Kathuria.

PlanetSpace is competing with California-based Space Dev, Texas-based SpaceHab, Virginia-based Transformational Space and California-based SpaceX who are all working to build and operate ISS cargo and crew delivery systems.

Kathuria migrated to the US at a very early age. He holds a degree in medicine from Brown University, Rhode Island, and a management degree in healthcare from Stanford University.