Virginia space industry will boost state's economy

A rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office was successfully launched Tuesday off the eastern shore of Virginia, the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority announced, and if the two-year-old facility attracts more business, it will boost the state economy.

The Minotaur I rocket took off from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Virginia Space is a political subdivision of the state and owns and operates the spaceport and the MARS UMS Airfield. It offers full-service launch and drone testing facilities for commercial, government, scientific and academic users.

The authority is seen as an economic driver for the state because it can provide safe, reliable and responsive space flight access at competitive prices and secure facilities for the testing of unmanned vehicles.

Virginia Space’s payload processing facility was used for Tuesday’s NROL-111 mission with the United States Space Force and Northrop Grumman (NOC). The facility opened in July 2019 and accommodates national security and classified missions and has separate cargo bays for both government and commercial businesses.

“The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport continues to attract diverse customers and support a wide range of missions, ensuring that Virginia remains a key gateway to space for decades to come,” Gov. Ralph Northam said. “Today’s successful launch is another strong indication that Virginia Space is poised to capitalize on the recent exponential growth of the aerospace industry and contribute tremendous scientific and economic benefits to our commonwealth and country.”

NROL-111 is the third USSF mission from the Wallops facility and the NRO’s second launch from Wallops Island. Launch services for this mission were provided by the USSF Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Program.

“The National Reconnaissance Office’s second successful dedicated launch from Wallops is a reflection of the industry’s recognition of this national strategic asset,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “The commonwealth is proud to work together with our government and commercial partners to help shape the future of space exploration.”

Virginia plays a key role in the space industry since it is one of only four states in the United States that has a spaceport licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to launch spacecraft into orbit or onto interplanetary trajectories. The other three are Florida, New Mexico and Alaska.

Other states, such as Louisiana, are looking at the space industry as a means to help their economies grow and diversify.

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