Spaceflight Insider

The Hangar / Wallops Flight Facility

Wallops Photo

Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider


Wallops Island is a barrier island along the State of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The Wallops Flight Facility comprises some 6,000 acres (roughly nine square miles). The primary buildings are located along the shore, with the launch facility itself being situated on Wallops Island.


Wallops is home to the only launch range owned by NASA and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). It was established as a research center by the National Advisory Council on Aeronautics (NACA) and began launching sounding rockets in 1945. Since the formation of NASA in 1958, the Wallops Flight Facility has been administered by Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) located in Greenbelt, Maryland. Wallops launched its first payload to orbit in 1961. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport was built on the NASA property to support commercial launches in 1998, with the spaceport launching its first Antares commercial vehicle in 2013 (the Antares A-ONE mission).

NASA Improved Terrier Malemute sounding rocket launches with RockSat X mission photo credit Mark Usciak SpaceFlight Insider

A NASA Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket with the RockSat-X mission launches from the Wallops Flight Facility on April 18, 2015. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak / SpaceFlight Insider

Situated some 100 miles (160 km) north-northeast of Norfolk, Virginia, Wallops has launched more than 16,000 rockets since 1945 when WFF was founded. Much of the work performed by these launch vehicles involves the study of heliophysics, astrophysics, planetary physics, technology development, and education-related missions for GSFC.

Wallops is also utilized to launch scientific balloons for astrophysics, technology development, and educational programs. The Facility is also the site of testing of unmanned aerial systems, small satellites, Operationally Responsive Space missions for the Department of Defense, and commercial Antares launches by Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK.


The Wallops Main Base includes an airport with three runways for conducting experimental aircraft (two FAA-certified runways as well as an experimental unmanned aerial vehicle runway). The WFF Research Airport is located at the Facility’s main site. The prerequisite crash and rescue facilities are also located on site.

Launch Range

The Wallops launch range is the only commercially-accessible facility with access to the Mid-Atlantic Test Range (MARS) warning area. The Facility’s local restricted area connects the launch range with the offshore warning area, offering virtually unrestricted airspace. Wallops personnel also can coordinate additional open airspace and surface area with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Air Control and Surveillance Facility to support missions.

Trajectory Options

For most rockets launched from Wallops, launch azimuths range between 90 and 160 degrees – depending on impact ranges. For most orbital vehicles, this translates into orbital inclinations from 38 degrees to ~60 degrees.

Launch Facilities

The Wallops launch range includes six pads, three blockhouses used for launch control, and assembly buildings to support the preparation and flights of suborbital and orbital launch systems. The launch pads and blockhouses are usually connected by combinations of multi-pair 12-gauge and/or 16-gauge shielded and twisted pair cables, as well as fiber optic cables. For Antares flights, the rockets are readied within the Horizontal Integration Facility or “HIF.”

Wallops Integrated Control Center

The Wallops Integrated Control Center (WICC) controls the launch range and research airport operations. The WICC also supports off-range balloon, sounding rocket, and aeronautical missions.

WICC obtains its range data via radar, telemetry, timing and weather systems, as well as off-range services. Communications include telephone, range intercom, radio, and off-site links. Data is transmitted and displayed primarily via video. WICC’s command links support flight termination and mission-dependent user functions.

The Range Data Acquisition and Computation (RADAC) System provides WICC redundant real-time data support, including impact prediction to meet range safety and other test range needs. The RADAC system provides a quick and flexible selection of data sources and displays. The video-switching network is the primary means of distributing data in the WICC. All critical instrumentation is supported by an uninterruptible power system and a backup power generator.

The expansion of the WICC, completed in 1992, included significant developments and enhancements:

  • Integrating RADAC real-time computer processing equipment
  • Developing a fully redundant real-time system
  • Developing a real-time graphic workstation display network based on Ethernet, allowing more flexible and responsive growth
  • Developing a new real-time data processing PC system
  • Developing a Generic Mission Controller Console with total communications and video information access that can be configured quickly
  • Expanded video switching access and display flexibility, allowing near-complete distribution of all video and graphic data sources to any controller area
  • Installing large-screen video displays in front staging area
  • Adding expanded video hard copy capabilities and near-future plans for quick-look video recording
  • Installing a new audio communications system providing total access to all voice sources and ease of distribution
  • Renovating instrumentation areas involving command, NASCOM, data handling and distribution and the previously mentioned video switch
  • Enhancing configuration control including system setup control (video software, new audio, etc.) as well as database documentation of cable installation.

The single-story first floor includes computer, communications, and instrumentation support equipment. The second floor includes the mission control room as well as rooms for range safety, surveillance, downrange operations, and data acquisition and processing. The two-story mission control room includes large screen video displays, eight generic control consoles, a test director area, VIP area, and rear balcony for the Public Affairs Office. The fourth-floor Aeronautical Observation Facility tower allows visual observation of the research airport.

Notable Missions

Wallops was used to test the “Little Joe” rockets, which were used as test vehicles for NASA’s early crewed space flight efforts. These tests would eventually be moved to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Starting in 2013, Orbital ATK began launching the company’s medium-class Antares rockets under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts. To date, the rocket has launched six times, with one failure. On October 28, 2014, an Antares rocket carrying Cygnus CRS Orb-3 failed shortly after launch, destroying both the rocket and the payload. Since that time, Orbital ATK has moved away from the Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26A (renamed 40-year-old NK-33 Russian rocket engines, refurbished and sold to Orbital ATK for use on Antares) and has begun using the RD-181 rocket engine.

Launch Operations

Launch Sites Launch Area (LA) 0A – Antares 130 launch site
Launch Pad (LP) 0A – Antares 230 launch site
LA0B – Minotaur launch site
LA1 – AML 50K launcher
LA2 – ARC, Jupiter, and HAD launch sites
LA3B – AML launch sites
LA4 – Military launch sites
Wallops Island Drop Zone (DZ) – Offshore drop zone for Orbital ATK Pegasus launches
Total Flights 16,000+
First Orbital Flight Explorer 9