Virginia spaceport facility recovery, return to flight

image011Recovery from the Antares launch mishap on October 28, 2014 continues for the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA), which owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) located on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.  After four successful launches including three Cygnus cargo deliveries to the International Space Station (ISS), the Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket experienced an anomaly in its first stage fifteen seconds after lift-off from the Spaceport, resulting in a catastrophic failure of the vehicle.

The Spaceport was spared severe damage with the Antares rocket returning to earth and impacting just to the north of the launch mount.  A detailed engineering inspection of the Spaceport has been completed and MARS engineering teams continue to refine the cost and work schedule for Pad-0A facility repairs; estimated to be approximately twelve months.

NASA, Orbital, and MARS continue successful execution of an environmental remediation plan, including pumping water from the impact crater and sampling.  Initial surface water samples indicate no impact to back bays and tributaries.

The environmental team conducted soil sampling in the impact crater and in the area surrounding the launch pad.  Testresults showed the contamination was contained in the area immediately around the crater.  This area will require 6” of soil removal for remediation, which is scheduled to commence the first week of December.

Virginia Space, NASA, and Orbital Sciences have worked together over the past six years to build the world class launch facility known as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport or MARS– providing the nation with a second East Coast launch site; an important national asset that serves NASA cargo resupply to the International Space Station (ISS), supports NASA science missions and provides access to orbits important to national security programs.

MARS Pad 0A and NASA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) were built through a $160 million investment, with the Commonwealth of Virginia investing $90M, NASA investing $60M and Orbital investing $10M.  Virginia also assumes the annual operating costs of the launch complex.  The new launch facility was part of the Commercial Orbital TransportationServices (COTS) investment of $1B made by NASA, Orbital and MARS to develop a complete end-to-end capability to launchcargo, under contract to NASA, to the International Space Station (ISS). Full utilization of the ISS has been a top priority of Congress and, as one of two launch sites available for cargo delivery, continued operations at Wallops are critically important.

Orbital has announced plans to return Antares to flight at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport with a ‘hot fire’ test anticipated for late 2015 and the maiden voyage of the upgraded Antares in 2016.  Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne remains confident flights from MARS will resume in 2016, but with additional protections for Virginia taxpayers.  “We are looking for both Orbital and NASA to partner with the Commonwealth for funding to begin repairing the launch facility and ongoing environmental cleanup.  Then let’s put a sustainable plan in place for the long term.  That’s what the Governor has asked us to do.”

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