Rocket Launched From Wallops, Solar Farm In Works

Rocket Launched From Wallops, Solar Farm In Works
A rocket carrying experiments from the Wallops Island Flight Facility was pictured early Thursday morning. Photo courtesy of NASA

WALLOPS — A week after breaking ground on a significant solar energy project, another successful rocket launch from the Wallops Island Flight Facility early Thursday morning provided further evidence of NASA’s long-term commitment to the facility just south of Ocean City and Assateague.

A Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket carrying student experiments was successfully launched around 5:30 a.m. on Thursday. While not quite providing a spectacle equal to the larger Antares orbital rocket launches to the International Space Station a couple times a year from Wallops, the sounding rocket launch arched its way across the early Thursday morning sky and was visible for many early-risers across the Lower Shore.

Thursday’s launch came just a week after NASA announced a major investment in the Wallops Flight Facility, which has become a significant economic engine on the Lower Shore including Worcester and Somerset Counties in recent years. The Wallops Island Flight Facility broke ground last week on a solar project that is expected to reduce the consumption of non-renewable energy sources at the facility by as much as 80%.

In the last decade or so, 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. Wallops Island Flight Facility Director Dave Pierce said last week the investments in the facility including the massive solar energy project, signal NASA’s commitment to its facility on the Lower Shore.

“Perhaps no other time in my more than 30 years of service at Wallops has there been such a rapid uptick in growth and investments at the facility,” he said. “These investments are proof positive of the agency’s commitment to Wallops and they underscore the fact that Wallops is critical to the NASA mission.”

The new 13-megawatt solar farm at Wallops will include both sun-tracking ground-mounted arrays near the facility’s airfield along with carport-style canopy arrays. The project is just the latest in attempt to improve efficiency. The new installations represent the first time the facility has made such a significant investment in renewable energy. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the solar project is predicted to be the equivalent of removing over 4,200 cars from the road each year.

“The solar farm is a very visible project because of the renewable and environmental aspects that it has and the sustainability goals that it meets,” said Wallops Solar Farm Project Manager Harold White. “It’s a great opportunity for the Eastern Shore, NASA and Wallops.”

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.