BERLIN – Area residents and visitors will likely be treated to a rare fireworks display in the southern sky Tuesday night if a major rocket launch at the Wallops Flight Facility goes off as planned.
The countdown began this week for the launch of an Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket set for Tuesday evening shortly after sundown. The rocket, carrying an Air Force Research Laboratory Tactical Satellite 3, or TacSat 3, and two secondary payloads into orbit, is expected to be launched shortly after sundown on Tuesday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch pad NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in nearby coastal Virginia and should be visible throughout the region including Ocean City.
The TacSat-3 launch will be the third Minotaur rocket launched from Wallops in the last two years and is considered a major launch event at the facility. Dozens of smaller, sub-orbital vehicles are launched from Wallops all year round, but the Minotaur 1 expected to go up on Tuesday is one of the more significant launch events at the facility.
“This is one of the bigger things we send up from our facility,” said Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler this week. “Depending on a variety of factors including cloud cover, for example, this launch should be visible pretty much anywhere in the Ocean City area.”
The TacSat-3 launch is set for Tuesday with a window set for 8-11 p.m. It is the third Minotaur rocket launched from the MARS launch pad in the last two years. The last time a Minotaur rocket was launched at the facility, hundreds of curiosity seekers gathered around the Inlet in Ocean City and at Assateague and other locations in the area and were not disappointed as the rocket arched its way across the early morning sky with a plume of fire and white smoke in its wake.
The Minotaur 1 is four-stage rocket 69 feet high and five feet wide. On this trip, the rocket will be carrying a TacSat-3 satellite used to deploy a variety of strategic defense components utilized by multiple agencies into orbit. Also on board this time around will be two secondary payloads including research satellites for the public and private sectors. The total cost of the mission comes in at around $60 million.
Koehler said this week NASA launch protocols take into account every possible safety precaution at the facility and in areas surrounding the flight path. On Wednesday, marine notices were posted alerting vessels in the area of the pending launch.
”We’ve done all the appropriate planning and safety precautions,” said Koehler. “We’re set to go and if the weather cooperates, we should have a pretty significant sunset launch event in the area on Tuesday.”