Wallops Island Could Host Human Space Flights

Launch complexes on Wallops Island, Virginia

Virginia Business has an interesting story on the commercial launch potential of Wallops Island in Virginia, which includes possible human launches aboard Atlas V by Bigelow Aerospace:

Over the next five years, the company will make eight launches of the Taurus II from Wallops, as part of a $1.9 billion contract Orbital has with NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

The Orbital deal is nice, and there are even bigger prizes out there. The decades-long effort to let the private sector handle much of what NASA has traditionally done is gaining momentum. The Obama administration gave the idea a big push this year in its NASA budget proposal, which calls for outsourcing to private companies the delivery of supplies — and maybe some day crew members — to the space station.

That’s opening up the potential for huge economic gains for states ready to seize the chance, and Virginia is hoping the Taurus project is a sign of things to come. Florida and California are probably its toughest competition. Florida’s Cape Canaveral tried hard to win the Taurus launch deal, hoping to recoup some job losses as NASA winds down the Space Shuttle program.

Another company looking at Wallops is Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace. It’s designing the first privately owned space station that it hopes to launch four years from now. Customers most likely would be nations without space programs. Michael Gold, director of the company’s Washington office, has been to Wallops to explore the idea of using the Atlas V launch system — co-owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin….

“Potentially bringing human space flight to Virginia would be frankly the largest economic impact to hit the state in a generation,” says Gold. “We have a very strong interest in Wallops and utilizing it … and avoiding the red tape you might face in Florida.”

Bigelow hopes to launch its first space station in 2014, followed by a second in two years later. By the end of the decade, the number of support launches for these facilities would reach into the high 20s. This number would probably be more than Cape Canaveral could handle given its other launches. Bigelow, which wants to launch from the United States, is looking at flying on multiple vehicles from different launch sites.

The article also notes Virginia’s growing clout within the space industry:

Virginia’s space-related industry extends beyond Wallops and Orbital Sciences. Langley Research Center, NASA’s oldest field center, is based in Hampton. Reston-based International Launch Services in July helped put an EchoStar satellite into orbit from a launch site in Kazakhstan. Since 2001, Space Adventures, based in Vienna, has arranged for seven wealthy clients to visit the International Space Station by flying on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. And Northrop Grumman Corp., which will move its headquarters to Fairfax County next year, produces sensors for space-based missions, including the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program and the Defense Support Program.

Virginia has put some effort into supporting a commercial space sector, anchored by NASA Wallops. In 2004, governors Bob Erlich of Maryland and Mark Warner of Virginia created the MARS partnership. And in recent years the General Assembly passed two laws to make the state more friendly to space transportation companies. The 2007 Virginia Space Liability and Immunity Act gives companies some legal shelter in the event of a mishap, and the Zero G Tax Act of 2008 provides an exemption to companies doing business in the state with plans to launch from MARS or to do spaceflight training.

Read the full story.