OCEAN CITY — With a major rocket launch from NASA’s nearby Wallops Island Flight Facility set for later this week, residents and visitors in the resort area and across the Lower Shore should have a great seat for quite a spectacle.
Nearly two years after the last attempt ended in a fiery explosion on the launch pad, NASA and its private sector partner Orbital ATK’s is scheduled to launch an upgraded Antares 230 rocket on Thursday at 9:13 p.m. from the Wallops Island Flight Facility on the Virginia coast just south of Assateague and Ocean City. The Antares measures about 131 feet tall, or the equivalent of a 13-story building, and depending on a variety of factors, the launch will likely be seen across much of the eastern U.S. from Florida to Canada and as far west as Indiana and Michigan.
With the Wallops Island Flight Facility just about 30 miles south of Ocean City and Worcester County, residents and visitors in the resort area should have perhaps the best view of the spectacle. Because the Antares is scheduled for a night launch, the size and intensity of the viewing area is expected to be enhanced.
The mission is to resupply approximately 5,100 pounds of cargo, including crew supplies and vehicle hardware, for the International Space Station and back-up dates are reported as Oct. 14-19
A major launch from Wallops is always met with anticipation for many in the resort area and across the Lower Shore, but this week’s Antares launch carries an added significance. In October 2014, NASA and its private-sector partner Orbital Sciences attempted to launch an Antares rocket carrying 5,000 pounds of cargo including food, instruments and other supplies to the International Space Station from Wallops, but the mission was aborted seconds after liftoff in a fiery explosion on the launch pad.
The Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS briefly went up as planned, but the mission was aborted just seconds after takeoff. The Antares was purposely blown up after problems were detected with the launch and the rocket fell back down to the launch pad causing a second explosion that could be seen and felt as far away as Ocean City.
The Antares was unmanned and no casualties were reported, but the aborted mission did extensive damage to Wallops and set back an ambitious launch program from the flight facility just as it was gaining momentum. Nearly two years later, with the injection of roughly $20 million in federal funding and a ton of work from the private and public partners, Wallops has recovered and has become a significant partner for Worcester County and much of the Lower Shore and a successful launch of the Antares could be symbolic of that recovery.