Major Wallops Island Rocket Launch Set for Sunday

Major Wallops Island Rocket Launch Set for Sunday
A visibility map details how wide the viewing area for Sunday’s launch could be under ideal conditions. Submitted Image

OCEAN CITY — Early-rising residents and visitors on Sunday morning could have a front row seat for what should be quite a spectacle with a major rocket launch from NASA’s nearby Wallops Island Flight Facility scheduled.

NASA and its private-sector partner Orbital ATK is expected to launch the Antares rocket on Sunday morning in at roughly 5:04 a.m. The Antares rocket will be carrying the Cygnus spacecraft, which will be delivering roughly 7,000 pounds of cargo including supplies and equipment to the International Space Station.

The Antares measures about 131 feet tall, or roughly the equivalent of a 13-story building, and it’s the largest rocket launched from the Wallops Island Flight Facility. Depending on a variety of factors including the weather, the launch is expected to be visible across much of the eastern U.S. from South Carolina to Massachusetts and as far west as Ohio.

With the Wallops Island Flight Facility just about 30 miles south of Ocean City, Assateague and the rest of Worcester County, residents and visitors in the resort area should have perhaps the best view of the spectacle. When NASA and Orbital ATK last launched at Antares rocket from Wallops in November 2017, thousands gathered around the Inlet in Ocean City and at Assateague Island to watch the rocket arc its way across the sky.

The Antares rocket and its cargo bound for the International Space Station was rolled out to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pad on Thursday morning and is on target for the early Sunday morning launch. However, the forecast for Sunday calls for showers in the mid-Atlantic region and the launch could be in jeopardy.

A major launch from Wallops is always met with anticipation for many in the resort area and across the Lower Shore. The successful Antares launch last fall came three years after the first-ever attempt to launch the big rocket’s supply mission to the International Space Station in October 2014 ended in a fiery crash on the launch pad.

The Antares rocket 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. Now four years later, with a couple of successful Antares launches under its belt, Wallops has recovered and has become a significant partner for Worcester County and much of the Lower Shore. A successful launch of the Antares on Saturday would be symbolic of that continued recovery.

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.