Starfighters Ready to Launch Research, Satellites

F-104 jet fighters just like the ones astronauts trained in for decades will become a more regular part of the skyscape above NASA's Kennedy Space Center as a private company expands its fleet of jets with plans to conduct more research flights, launch very small satellites into space and even take paying passengers into the stratosphere.

The developments come four years after the company made its first flight from the Shuttle Landing Facility, or SLF, at Kennedy in April 2007.

Starfighters pilot and owner Rick Svetkoff is one of the new generation of entrepreneurs working to open different aspects of the aerospace world to a broader group of developers, researchers and people.

"We're breaking the mold," Svetkoff said recently inside the hangar at the SLF the company leased from Space Florida.

Boasting speeds faster than Mach 2, extreme acceleration and the ability to pull 7 g's or more, the F-104 provides a platform to test rocket components, tracking sensors and space-bound equipment, Svetkoff said. The aircraft also can push over to create microgravity conditions for a short time.

"We can go from ground to 23,000 feet as fast as some of the rockets launched here," Svetkoff said.

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