FAA Gives Environmental Approval for Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Expansion

Launch complexes on Wallops Island, Virginia

The Federal Aviation Administration has given its OK to a NASA plan to expand the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the Wallops Flight Facility for new commercial launches.

In an Aug. 3 ruling signed by FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Spaceflight George Nield, the agency concurred with an earlier NASA finding that the planned expansion at the Virginia facility “would not individually or cumulatively have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment, and therefore the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was not required.” The decision supports the issuance of licenses and experimental permits required for future launches.

The ruling helps pave the way for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Taurus II rocket, which is being prepared for its inaugural flight in mid-2011. The vehicle will send Cygnus cargo freighters to the International Space Station. OSC also plans to use the new rocket to launch satellites.

The decision contains a detailed description of the expansion plans, which call for the launching of a “maximum of 18 orbital-class launch vehicles” from two launch pads and “the reentry of associated crew or cargo capsules.”

Under the Proposed Action in the EA [Environmental Assessment], NASA and MARS facilities would be upgraded to support up to and including medium large class suborbital and orbital expendable launch vehicle (ELV) launch action from WFF. NASA’s Preferred Alternative includes site improvements required to support launch operations (such as facility construction and infrastructure improvement); testing, fueling, and processing operations; up to two static fire tests per year; launch up to six orbital class vehicle per year from Pad 0-A; and the reentry of associated crew and cargo capsules. Implementation of NASA’s Preferred Alternative would result in a maximum of 18 orbital class vehicle launches from MARS Complex 0 (twelve existing launches from Pad 0-B and six additional launches from Pad 0-A).

Because the Taurus II would be the largest rocket to fly from the facility, officials used it as the “envelope launch vehicle” for the environmental assessment.

Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus Capsule and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation’s Dragon Capsule were evaluated as potential reentry vehicles, because they may carried by the Taurus II and Falcon 9, respectively.