OCEAN CITY — With another significant launch at NASA’s nearby Wallops Island facility scheduled for later this month, Ocean City business leaders this week learned of a growing partnership to take advantage of the potential opportunities.
NASA and its private-sector partners have conducted several major launches from Wallops in recent years, and depending on a variety of factors including the scope and scale of the rockets, weather conditions and the time of day, viewers throughout the mid-Atlantic region including Ocean City have been treated to a rarely seen spectacle. The potential economic impact of viewing major rocket launches has not been lost on the local business community.
The Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) on Wednesday got a briefing on the upcoming launch activity at Wallops, including the launch of an Antares rocket carrying needed supplies to the International Space Station planned for no later than Oct. 20. Thousands of space enthusiasts will likely travel to the Lower Shore to view the launch, a tourism segment not lost on Ocean City business leaders and Wallops officials.
Wallops Public Affairs Specialist Rebecca Hudson on Wednesday briefed the EDC on the launch plans and other future activities at the NASA flight facility in the coming months. She said Wallops’ increased presence in recent years means big business on the Lower Shore including Worcester County and Ocean City, from tourism and the creation of high paying jobs to the development of associated private sector businesses to support the flight facility’s operations.
Hudson said the estimated economic impact of Wallops on the local economy comes in at around $396 million.
“We’re very active in launching,” she said. “What most people don’t realize is we’ve been around for 45 years, and we’ve launched around 16,000 rockets over the years. Only recently have we taken on a higher profile in the area. With the disbanding of the Space Shuttle program, the launch of needed supplies for the ISS has become more important and Wallops is front and center on that.”
NASA partners with the private sector on much of its activity at Wallops including most significant launches. For example, the major Antares rocket launch to the International Space Station later this month will be handled by Orbital Sciences.
“We’ve turned to the commercial sector for that and it’s working,” she said. “We have a long-standing contract with Orbital Sciences and there are at least six more major launches under that contract. The question is, what does that mean for you? We’re figuring out how to market the launches from a spectator standpoint and Ocean City is right in our back yard. We’re constantly getting calls asking is the launched will be visible from Ocean City.”
Local residents and visitors have already enjoyed the spectacle of seeing major rocket launches from Wallops and NASA hopes to expand its partnership with the Lower Shore community to exploit the opportunity. For example, the town of Ocean City has already marketed the Inlet area and the south end of the Boardwalk as a major destination to view the launches. In addition, a Stephen Decatur High School senior has developed a special box at the Inlet that allows viewers to see a countdown clock in real time along with other information important information about the rockets and their missions.
“We have a great working relationship with Ocean City,’ said Hudson. “I think it’s really working. People are coming to Ocean City because they can see these remarkable launches from here. Tons of people are calling us and asking if the launches are visible from here.”
The planned launch in October will be an Antares rocket measuring about 131 feet tall, or roughly the equivalent of a 13-story building, or slightly lower than the Carousel Hotel and Resort where the EDC meeting was held on Wednesday. The launch is tentatively scheduled for 8:30 at night, which could provide quite a spectacle for viewers who should be able to clearly see and even feel the magnitude of the launch, according to Hudson. She said the launch could provide an economic boost to the resort area at a time when not much else is going on.
“If it helps you all with the season ramping down, we’re all for it,” she said. “It’s a great partnership. You can use us to help bring some people into town that wouldn’t normally be here at this time of year and it works for us too because it creates a buzz about what’s going on at Wallops. We’re guaranteed six more launches under this contract and there are plenty more launches coming.”
Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger said the county and Ocean City are already exploring opportunities to take advantage of launches from Wallops.
“We have a group getting together to figure out how to best take advantage of everything that is going on at Wallops,” she said. “We’ve got a website up and running with information about dates and times for launches and everything else that is going on down there and there are great package opportunities for hotels and restaurants to promote your businesses. We’re all really excited …”