Wallops launch site will be company’s first in U.S.

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Rocket Lab’s Shaun D’Mello (left) and Peter Beck, Virginia Space’s Dale Nash and MARS’ Sean Mulligan

A new launch facility at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island is expected to boost Virginia’s aerospace industry.

Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex-2 will be the Los Angeles-based company’s first in the United States. Rocket Lab and Virginia Space, which runs the spaceport, are teaming together to build the $20 million complex. It will be located near a launch pad used by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems to launch its Antares rockets.

Gov. Ralph Northam approved a $5 million grant for the project through the commonwealth’s Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund.

The development of Launch Complex-2 “strengthens our existing position as the industry leader providing frequent and tailored access to orbit for small satellites,” says Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO.

The new launch site will cater to U.S government customers. “They will be carrying sensitive government payloads,” says Dale Nash, Virginia Space’s executive director and CEO. “[Rocket Lab’s customers] want to launch them in the U.S. and retain tight control.”

Launching from U.S. soil gives Rocket Lab’s customers more flexibility by “increasing launch frequency and offering an unmatched ability to rapidly deploy space-based assets with confidence and precision,” Beck says.

The spaceport, which is co-located at NASA Wallops Island, was one of four locations under consideration for the Rocket Lab project. The company also looked at Cape Canaveral in Florida, Pacific Spaceport Complex–Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Virginia made the final cut thanks to high flight frequency available from the spaceport along with a rapid construction timeline. Rocket Lab’s first Electron rocket launch from the site is targeted for the third quarter of next year.

“We anticipate one launch a month, or 12 a year,” says Nash. “We have a very aggressive schedule to get this facility built, about eight or nine months, but we have an existing workforce with the knowledge and expertise to do this.”

The facility is expected to create 30 jobs with a pay scale in the mid-$80,000 range. “The number of jobs will spike to as many as 100 people during the one- to two-week launch period and then scale back to 30,” Nash says. “This will be a huge impact on the region.”

Nash has developed the workforce at Virginia Space working with Eastern Shore Community College and universities in the commonwealth, Maryland and Delaware.

“Over 25 percent of our total workforce has gone through our internship program. We will help Rocket Lab develop their workforce with local talent. That was a key selling point to Rocket Lab,” he says.

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