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Rocket Lab announces new launch site at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility

Groundbreaking ceremonies for Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 2 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility located in Virginia. Photo Credit: Patrick Black / NASA

Groundbreaking ceremonies for Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility located in Virginia. Photo Credit: Patrick Black / NASA

While it is still working to deliver the first paying customer’s payload to orbit, California-based commercial space company Rocket Lab has made progress in terms of expanding its presence. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 Rocket Lab announced that the company would begin operating from a new site – NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility located in Virginia. It is at Wallops that Rocket Lab hopes to launch their Electron rocket from. At present, the company has carried out flights of the rocket from its facilities located in New Zealand. Both their Ātea-1 and Electron vehicles have taken to the skies from sites located in New Zealand.

Rocket Lab has laid out an aggressive plan for its newest launch pad, with the company stating it’s targeting the third quarter of next year (2019) for its first flight from Wallops. 

“Accessing space should be simple, seamless and tailored to our customers’ missions – from idea to orbit. Launching from a second pad builds on Rocket Lab’s ability to offer the small satellite industry unmatched schedule and launch location flexibility,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck via a release. “Having proven the Electron vehicle with a successful orbital launch this year, we’re thrilled to expand on our ability to provide rapid, reliable and affordable access to orbit for small satellites.”

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket climbs spaceward on its inaugural launch on May 25, 2017 from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. Image credit: Rocket Lab

While adding Launch Complex 2 to the sites from which it operates, Rocket Lab has stated that its real estate ambitions aren’t ending at Wallops. Other locations across the globe are being considered. Wallops was tapped from a field of four other launch sites from which to accommodate the needs of those seeking to launch small payloads to space. The other possible candidates included Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Florida), Wallops, the Pacific Spaceport Complex (Alaska) and Vandenberg Air Force Base (California).

“Wallops has more than 70 years of experience successfully supporting missions using suborbital as well as small and medium-class orbital launch vehicles. We look forward, along with our partner Virginia Space and its Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, to supporting Rocket Lab’s Electron missions and expanding commercial launch operations from Wallops,” said Wallops Flight Facility Director, Bill Wrobel.

Rocket Lab has stated that it should be able to launch 120 times per year from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, which it describes as “the world’s only private launch site.” With Launch Complex 2 announced, Rocket Lab is projecting that it will have the capacity to send payloads to orbit on a monthly basis for both commercial firms as well as those for U.S. government. If these projections come to fruition, Rocket Lab should have the ability to conduct 130 launches annually.

It is hoped that having more than one site from which to conduct their operations will provide Rocket Lab with increased flexibility and capacity.

With the announcements out of the way the real work is set to begin. Virginia Space, the state’s aerospace development branch and Rocket Lab will now work to get the location ready to support launch operations. In this case, Electron. However spectacular these flight might be, they require a lot of hard work that the general public rarely sees.

“We’ve worked closely with the experienced and welcoming teams from Virginia Space and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops to design a pad and processes that will enable an agile and streamlined approach to small satellite launch on U.S. soil,” Beck stated.

Before Electron can be launched from Virginia a new Launch Vehicle Integration and Assembly Facility located at Wallops Research Park. It must be able to support the assembly of four Electron rockets – at the same time. Of course without a control room, professional launches would not be possible. So, one of those will be needed along with facilities to support the customers using the launch vehicles to accomplish their objectives. On top of all that there is an array of other requirements essential to supporting a launch.

“We are honored to be Rocket Lab’s selection for Launch Complex 2” stated Dale Nash, CEO and Executive Director of Virginia Space. “There is an incredible synergy between Virginia Space and Rocket Lab and we are proud to support their missions launching from U.S. soil. We’d like to thank Rocket Lab for their confidence in our team. Virginia Space and MARS employees are standing ready to do everything we can to ensure successful, safe and timely launch missions for Rocket Lab just as we do for every customer of the Spaceport.”

 

 

 

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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