BERLIN – Against the backdrop of a crystal clear, starry
night, the second rocket launch in four months from NASA’s Wallops Island
Spaceport climbed through the sky and into orbit Tuesday, providing hundreds of
local residents, visitors to the area and curiosity seekers with an early
morning light show.
The latest launch from Wallops Mid-Atlantic Regional
Spaceport (MARS) went off without a hitch shortly before 3 a.m. on Tuesday
morning after two postponements. The launch was originally scheduled for last
Saturday, but was scrubbed because of the lingering effects of the Nor’easter
that lingered over the area for much of last week. Rescheduled again for Monday
morning, the launch of the Air Force Minotaur 1 was moved back another day to
Tuesday after some minor technical problems.
Hundreds of onlookers crowded into the launch viewing
areas at Chincoteague and the south end of Assateague Island and dozens more
viewed the spectacle from the Ocean City Inlet and other areas all over
northern Worcester County. The red glow of the rocket’s flame and the plume of
white smoke that trailed it were reportedly seen throughout the local area and
much of the mid-Atlantic region.
The Minotaur 1, measuring 70 feet tall and five-feet wide,
carried NASA’s Missile Defense Agency’s Near Field Infrared Experiment, or
NFIRE payload, into orbit. The NFIRE test is aimed at perfecting a sensor
system that could track and destroy enemy missiles, although it is primarily
designed to gather data on exhaust plumes from other rocket launches conducted
Tuesday’s launch follows a similar launch of a Minotaur 1
rocket from the MARS spaceport last December. That Minotaur 1 launch carried
the Air Force Research Laboratory’s TacSat-2 satellite into orbit.
The back-to-back launches signal an increased amount of
activity at the nearby Wallops facility for NASA. Although the rocket launches
are clearly the most visible evidence of the increased activity at the
facility, there is much going on behind the scene that is creating more jobs
across the Lower Shore including Worcester.
NASA officials this week said they were pleased with the
success of Tuesday’s mission and hope to carry out similar missions at Wallops
in the near future.
“This launch again demonstrates the unique capabilities of
the Wallops Flight Facility, which includes the Mid-Atlantic Regional
Spaceport, to efficiently support the placing of satellites into Earth’s
orbit,” said Dr. John Campbell, director of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility.
“Working with the Air Force, MDA and their contractors, the preparation for
this launch and the launch itself went very smoothly.”