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McDonnell Calls for Boost to Space Launch Facilities

Governor Bob McDonnell is again calling for more investment in Virginia's space launch facilities at Wallops Island.

He spoke about the issue recently at a conference on the future of the commercial space industry. It's part of an effort to highlight a new report that argues Virginia is well positioned to become a leader in commercial space launches - an industry poised for growth as big government space programs shut down.

The report, compiled by the Performance Management Group at Virginia Commonwealth University, also offers recommendations, including infrastructure improvements at Wallops Island, the development of a space research center in Hampton Roads, and the appointment of a state "director of space."

McDonnell has been pushing to make Virginia a hub for commercial space launches since taking office, saying that such investments would usher in good-paying jobs and a big economic boost.

Wallops Island, on the Eastern Shore, is home to both NASA launch facilities and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, or MARS, which is run by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority at Old Dominion University. It is one of just four spaceports in the United States licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to launch vehicles into orbit. Last year it saw about a dozen orbital and suborbital launches, including military satellites, and later this year it's slated to start sending supplies to the International Space Station.

Brendan Curry, vice president of Washington operations for the nonprofit Space Foundation, said it makes sense that McDonnell is talking up Wallops' potential. "Space jobs are very well paid," Curry said. "And they attract the kind of workforce that any state would want."

He agreed that Wallops' geography gives it a lot of competitive advantages. He said the fact that it's not busy with launches tied to national defense - as is the case at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California - also might make it more attractive to small and medium-sized companies.

That was a big draw for Orbital Sciences Corp., which is set to begin launching supplies to the International Space Station from Wallops, a company spokesman said.

For now, Orbital is the only private company that launches from Wallops.

Curry said Wallops' only major shortcoming is its remote location, which takes time to reach.

"If Virginia wants to compete," he said, "infrastructure will really be the key."

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