Launch Activity Picking Up At Wallops

Launch Activity Picking Up At Wallops

WALLOPS — NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility, south of Ocean City and Assateague Island, successfully launched a five-story-high suborbital rocket Tuesday morning.

Around 6:15 a.m. on Tuesday, the Wallops Island Flight Facility along the Virginia shore launched a NASA Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket, carrying two space technology demonstration projects. The suborbital rocket carried its scientific experiment payload to an altitude of about 206 miles approximately five minutes after launch before the payload splashed down harmlessly in the Atlantic Ocean around 160 miles from shore. As planned, the payload will not be recovered.

According to Wallops officials, with crystal clear conditions on Tuesday morning, the launch was reportedly visible from Delaware to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and everywhere in between including the Ocean City and Worcester County coastal areas. While the suborbital launch was certainly not the largest or the most visible from Wallops in recent years, the successful launch of the suborbital Black Brant IX on Tuesday signals a continued rebound in Wallops launch activity after a major catastrophe last fall.

Tuesday’s launch was the second from Wallops in the span of about two weeks. On June 25, Wallops launched a suborbital Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket carrying student experiments. The next launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility will be a suborbital Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket scheduled to go up in the early morning hours on Aug. 11, continuing an expanded launch program after the accident last October.

Last fall, NASA’s private sector partner Orbital Science attempted the launch of an Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Antares, which measured about 131 feet, or about 13 stories high, went up as planned, but the mission was aborted just seconds after liftoff when problems with the launch were detected. There were two explosions, both of which shook houses and rattled windows across the Lower Shore, as the Antares was purposely blown up and fell back to the launch pad.

In the months since, NASA and Wallops officials have recovered and resumed launch activities at the flight facility as evidenced by the two launches this week and in late June. Clearly, the federal government continues to invest in the Wallops Flight Facility with an eye on the future of its launch program. Just two weeks ago, on the eve of the 70th anniversary celebration for Wallops, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) announced the 2016 federal spending bill includes a $7 million investment in the Wallops Island Flight Facility’s launch complex. With the dismantling of the space shuttle program, Wallops has taken on greater importance in the nation’s space program in recent years with several significant launches.

As a result, the Wallops Island Flight Facility has expanded its operations creating hundreds of new meaningful and well-paying government and private sector jobs across the Lower Shore including Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset. The expanded presence at Wallops has also created millions of dollars in direct and indirect economic impact on the Lower Shore.

With the influx of federal funding, Wallops has flourished in recent years with several significant orbital and suborbital launches each year. There has been some tourism-based economic benefit as visitors have flocked to various points along the shore to view the larger launches including Ocean City and Assateague, for example.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.