Dulles-based Orbital Sciences Corp. has picked Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island over the Kennedy Space Flight Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., as the site for its Taurus II space launch vehicle.
Orbital officials chose MARS on Virginia’s Eastern Shore for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it offers lower operational and launch costs and an ideal trajectory into low-Earth orbit. Orbital also has a comfort level with the site, having launched 11 smaller vehicles from Wallops Island.
The $45 million Taurus II, which will be the launch vehicle for joint NASA and Orbital cargo missions to the International Space Station, is a landmark project, according to Ron Wolff, chairman of the County of Accomack Board of Supervisors.
“This is enormous, akin to the opening of the Bay Bridge Tunnel back in the 1960s,” he says, noting that the Taurus II project will use much bigger rockets than previous launches. “We think this will be the first step in opening the door to more commercial operations from here and possibly even manned flight, where people can pay to go up into space. We hope this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Taurus project, which will make its first launch in 2010, is expected to create 125 technical jobs, to be split between Orbital’s corporate headquarters and the Eastern Shore. It will also require a significant upgrade to the Wallops Island infrastructure, including the construction of a new rocket assembly building and a revamping of the launch pad, “so you’re talking about at least 18 months of work that local contractors will hopefully get,” Wolff says.
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