Sen. Mikulski and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visit Wallops Flight Facility
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, along with Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, visited NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The duo conducted a town hall meeting and a tour on Tuesday, May 3. Stopping off at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s (MARS) Pad 0A, the pair highlighted the importance of the agency’s commercial partnerships, such as the one with Orbital ATK.
In addition to Bolden and Mikulski, those in the tour included William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters; Chris Scolese, director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland; and Bill Wrobel, Wallops director. The tour was led by the executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, Dale Nash.
The briefing and tour were held to help highlight the work being done at Wallops as well as to thank the workers for their part in making the operations at the facility possible.
The enhanced version of Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket is poised to make a comeback later this summer when it will send the OA-5 Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) from Wallops. The rocket hasn’t flown since the October 2014 launch explosion, which resulted in the loss of the accompanying Orb-3 Cygnus cargo ship as well as damage to the launch pad.
Cygnus has since flown twice aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. In the meantime, MARS’ Pad 0A has undergone repairs and upgrades. For her part, Mikulski acknowledged the work that pad technicians have done to repair the launch site.
“After the setback you went to work, you are ready to go and you actually have improved [the pad],” Mikulski said, “You have improved it in terms of reliability to launch. You have improved it in terms of safety. You have improved it in terms of durability.”
Mikulski mentioned during her comments that the new “Enhanced” Antares could make its return to Virginia’s skies as early as July 6. However, as it would be flying a resupply flight to the International Space Station, the actual launch date could be later as SpaceX is set to launch to the orbiting laboratory in late June.
During a presentation, for her three decades of support for space exploration efforts, Orbital ATK’s Frank Culbertson presented the senator with a scarf—a gift from the University of Maryland—that was flown on the Orb-D1 mission, which launched in 2013 from Pad 0A.
Orb-D1 was Orbital ATK’s second demonstration flight of the Antares rocket. Then the company was known as Orbital, before a 2015 merger with Alliant Techsystems. The mission lofted the company’s first Cygnus cargo ship toward the ISS. The scarf was carried to the orbital outpost aboard the spacecraft.
Additionally, Wrobel presented Mikulski with a “Key to Wallops Island” made out of rocket metal manufactured at WFF on behalf of all of the employees of the spaceport.
“It was an honor to accompany Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski on her visit to the Wallops Flight Facility today,” Culbertson told SpaceFlight Insider. “Through her strategic leadership and creative vision, she brought launch capabilities and research possibilities to the Mid-Atlantic region. Orbital ATK is proud to be preparing Antares for its flight from Pad 0A later this summer.”
Before Orbital ATK can launch the new Antares, the company has to conduct a hot fire test of the rocket. This will not only test the enhanced booster, but also the repaired Pad 0A as well.
Both the enhanced Antares and OA-5 Cygnus spacecraft are part of the $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract that Orbital ATK has with NASA. Antares, a medium-class booster, will sport new RD-181 rocket engines when it next takes to the skies in July.
The launch facility at MARS was completed in 2012 and is a joint effort between Orbital ATK, NASA, and the Commonwealth of Virginia through Virginia Space.
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