Thursday, December 25, 2008

Orbital will supply ISS from Wallops Island

The fortunes of Wallops Island as second only to North Carolina's Topsail Island (technically, and only very briefly) in being the oldest U.S. rocket launching facility on the Atlantic Seaboard, has undergone a steady reversal, and much faster than its gradual decline after the rise of Cape Canaveral, fifty years ago.

Virginia's home of the occasional suborbital sounding rocket will be the site of at least eight orbital resupply missions to the International Space Station, part of 25 year old Orbital Science Corporation's winning bid shared with SpaceX and announced by NASA on December 23.

The company last summer chose the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island as its base of operations for its $45 million space launch vehicle program designed to replace the space shuttle.

Orbital Sciences is contracted to provide eight flights valued at $1.9 billion while SpaceX will provide 12 flights valued at $1.6 billion.The contracts, awarded under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services program, call for each company to deliver a minimum of 20 metric tons of cargo to the space station.

"This is big news; this is really and truly what we've waited for for so long," said Billie Reed, director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, who has worked since 1992 on the spaceport initiative for the state. "It's a hard award for these eight launches; it provides solid business for Orbital, and consequently for us."

Orbital's first launch is planned for October 2011, Reed said. NASA has not decided on the specific contents of the first delivery, NASA spokesman Bill Gerstenmaier said, but the cargo will contain a mixture of food and other supplies for the space station crew and research materials.

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