Space Services Inc. expects in March to become the first privately funded company to send a commercial rocket into space for a paying customer, The Houston Post reported Sunday.

The customer will be the University of Alabama-Huntsville's Consortium for Materials Department in Space. The tab for lofting 625 pounds of science experiment materials on a 15-minute, 200-mile-high trip is $1 million. SSI of Houston reports its costs will be $1.2 million.The company, directed by former Mercury astronaut Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, believed business would be lively in 1985 when it announced plans to begin private space ventures by launching human ashes into orbit on behalf of a Florida funeral home. Those plans never materialized.

Finding potential payloads has been a problem not only for SSI but for each of about a dozen small commercial launch companies nationwide.

SSI's rocket includes a first-stage motor built by Morton Thiokol Inc. of Brigham City that normally provides the ride for surface-to-air missiles used by the Navy.