It's only rocket science
By Bill May. The Journal Record, 6/18/01.

A $50 million rocket-launching project is expected to move into western Oklahoma as soon as financing can be arranged, according to the president of TGV Rockets.

Pat Bahn, company president and founder, has been enticed to Oklahoma because of incentives for space companies passed in the waning days of the last legislative session.

Plans are to build a rocket that will reach the edges of space - about 300,000 feet high - take pictures and come straight back down. These images would be sold to several industries, Bahn said during a telephone interview from his Bathesda, Md., office.

"It may not seem like much, but the imaging industry has a multibillion-dollar market right now and it's growing," he said.

TVG plans to establish its headquarters in Oklahoma City, with engineering and assembly operations offices in one of the cities with a major university. After the rocket is assembled, it would be transferred to the launch site via truck, where the payload would be attached.

No more than 30 employees would be required. Bahn said all would be in high-paying jobs.

"We will qualify for the quality jobs assistance with the minimum payroll at $1 million," he said. "That won't bother us, for $1 million will only pay for about 15 employees."

Bahn said TGV would buy as many of its parts and supplies from Oklahoma companies as possible.

"I'm also going to encourage our core vendors to move to western Oklahoma and utilize Oklahoma companies as much as they can," he said.

Western Oklahoma is "probably one of the best" places in the United States for a launch site, as far as his company is concerned, Bahn said.

"You are almost the center of the United States. From there, we can see (the camera) all the way from near the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Rockies to the Appalachians."

When TGV gets started, Bahn said the firm would have most of its operations in Oklahoma, though it will need regional bases to cover the East and West coasts.

"As technology improves and our cameras can see further, then we'll consolidate into Oklahoma," he said.

Bahn, who started his career in the computer industry, is taking a different tack in building a company based on rocketry.

"In the computer industry, an original equipment manufacturer will buy this piece from one company, this piece from another and still another piece from another company," he said. "The company will engineer some original components, then go out to the components makers, explaining what is needed.

"That's how new technology is developed in the computer industry - a lot of little companies advancing the technology for each component and someone bringing it all together so that it works properly."

His goal, he said, was not to develop new technology, but find a less expensive, reliable, method for launching rockets.

"We are simply trying to find the best components on the market, put them together in a different way and build from there," he said.

This way, Bahn said he is able to keep start-up costs under $50 million, an amount that he can raise through capital venture funds.

"If we get too big, like the big aerospace companies, then we couldn't get it financed," he said.

This also cuts down on the technical risks, which cuts down on the chances of failure, he said.

Bahn pledged to keep all his operations in Oklahoma and to help build the state's space industry, because that will help his company.

"If we can get a lot of small companies building quality components out here, it will be cheaper for us," he said.

Another reason is more of a corporate philosophy, he said.

"If Oklahoma does everything for us that they say they will, then we'll do what we can for Oklahoma. We believe in supporting our friends. We help people who help us."

When he started trying to find financial backers, he approached Arthur Aubrey of York, Pa., who headed a venture capital fund in Baltimore.

"At first, he was lukewarm on the idea, especially having it based in Oklahoma. But then I convinced him to come out with me, meet all the people involved and see what was available. Since he had to do this in his due diligence, he agreed.

"He changed a lot after he got out there and met everyone and saw what was available and what the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority had planned. Now, even though he swears he's going to lose money on my deal, he's 100 percent behind it. He thinks this will give him entry into this market as well as Oklahoma."

Bahn admitted others within TGV Rockets are not convinced why they should move to Oklahoma.

"I promised them that if they would just move out here and give me three years, we could get the company up and running in that length of time," he said. "Then, if they still don't like Oklahoma, they will be free to find another job somewhere else. I don't think that any of them will want to go back, once they've lived in Oklahoma."

Bahn wouldn't be specific about locations or even the number of employees or size of his annual payroll. "We haven't down-selected all that yet," he said.

He's looking at three sites in western Oklahoma for launching, and both Norman and Stillwater for engineering and assembly operations.

"But we will be in Oklahoma. I promise you that," he said.