Rocket Lab Selects Wallops Island for U.S. Launch Site

Electron launch (Credit: Rocket Lab)

RICHMOND, Va. (Virginia Governor’s Office PR)—Governor Ralph Northam announced today that Rocket Lab, a California-based company, has chosen Virginia Space and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport as the location for Launch Complex-2 (LC-2), Rocket Lab’s first launch facility located in the United States.

Already launching from their own facility on the Mahia peninsula of New Zealand, LC-2 helps Rocket Lab meet its rapidly growing launch manifest demand from both commercial and government customers. Construction will begin immediately for Launch Complex-2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) and a Launch Vehicle Integration and Assembly Facility, which will be located nearby in Wallops Research Park.

“I am proud to welcome Rocket Lab as the newest launch provider at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility,” said Governor Northam. “Rocket Lab’s selection of our Commonwealth for its first launch site and integration facility in the United States is a great win for our growing aerospace industry, and an investment that will generate jobs and increase Virginia’s overall economic competitiveness.”

“The development of Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex-2 strengthens our existing position as the industry leader providing frequent and tailored access to orbit for small satellites,” said Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck. “Launching from U.S. soil adds an extra layer of flexibility for our government and commercial customers, offering an unmatched ability to rapidly deploy space-based assets with confidence and precision.”

Rocket Lab will launch its 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron rocket from LC-2, the dedicated launch site to be constructed at MARS. The Electron rocket can launch approximately 500 pounds (225 kilograms) of payload to orbit. The rocket launch industry has shifted recently as commercial spaceflight has matured and satellites have gotten smaller and less expensive to manufacture. With the capabilities provided by the Electron, Rocket Lab is perfectly positioned to capitalize on the emerging market for smaller rockets that can launch rapidly and more frequently.

“Rocket Lab’s decision to locate this launch site and integration facility at Wallops Island reflects the Commonwealth’s strategic transportation planning efforts to create a world class, customer-oriented gateway to space,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.  “The MARS facility is an important part of our multimodal transportation system that serves as the platform to drive Virginia’s economy forward.”

Rocket Lab, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, and Virginia Space are looking to launch the first Electron from LC-2 at MARS as early as Summer 2019.

“We are pleased with Rocket Lab’s decision to launch its Electron rocket from Wallops,” said NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility Director Bill Wrobel. “Wallops, as a multi-tenant, multi-user facility, has been supporting the commercial launch industry for more than 30 years and, partnering with Virginia Space and its Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, we look forward to continue this effort with Rocket Lab.”

The Launch Vehicle Integration and Assembly Facility to be located in the Wallops Research Park (WRP) will be designed and built to accommodate the simultaneous integration of three to four Electron vehicles, will contain a control room with connectivity to LC-2, and will include customer office and conference room space. This new facility, in tandem with the purpose-built gantry located at LC-2, will provide significant and dedicated vehicle processing capability and flexibility to meet Rocket Lab’s launch cadence.

“From the very beginning of discussions, it was clear that Rocket Lab was an extremely good fit with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport,” stated Virginia Space CEO and Executive Director Dale Nash. “Their nimble and responsive approach to business mirrors our own. Both companies are staffed by committed and dedicated employees that solve challenges simply, successfully and in a cost-effective manner. Rocket Lab’s frequency of flights approach to satellite launch dovetails perfectly with the capabilities and facilities available at the Spaceport.”

“Wallops Research Park was created to provide an attractive environment for science, technology and educational enterprises,” said Chairman of the Accomack County Board of Supervisors Robert Crockett. “This is a fantastic opportunity for Accomack County and the intelligence and strong work ethic of the best and brightest of our residents will serve Rocket Lab well in their endeavors.”

“The level of cooperation and partnership between Virginia Space, the NASA Wallops Flight Facility and their respective customers is uncommon. Combining the attributes of a federal entity with the flexibility associated with an Authority of Virginia allows for a unique partnering that provides complementary versus duplicative efforts,” noted MARS Director Sean Mulligan. “Virginia Space and the Wallops Flight Facility team work seamlessly to provide outstanding service, safety and responsiveness. This collaboration provides an outstanding program experience, enabling customers like Rocket Lab to focus on their mission and meet accelerated schedules at a reasonable cost.”

About Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab’s mission is to open access to space to improve life on Earth. Rocket Lab develops and launches advanced rocket technology to provide rapid and repeatable access to orbit for small satellites. Rocket Lab is driven to broaden the horizons of what’s already possible in space and is inspired by the possibilities not yet imagined. Rocket Lab is a private company, with major investors including Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture partners, DCVC (Data Collective), Promus Ventures, Lockheed Martin and K1W1. For more information, visit www.rocketlabusa.com.

About Virginia Space

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA) is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Space owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the MARS Unmanned Systems Test Range and is constructing the MARS Payload Processing Facility (PPF). Collocated on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia, the mission of Virginia Space and MARS is to provide low-cost, safe, reliable, “schedule-friendly” access to space and secure facilities for testing of unmanned vehicles for integration into the National Air Space. Virginia continues to play a key role in national security and assured access to space, as one of only four states in the United States hosting a spaceport licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch spacecraft into orbit or on interplanetary trajectories. For more information, visit www.vaspace.org.

  • windbourne

    i’m actually surprised that SpaceX does not use either Wallop Island OR better yet, the marshall islands site. That would actually be better than Texas. Marshall island Missile Range has no real civilians there. They can hop all they want there at any time of day or night.

  • Tom Billings

    Their experiences with saltwater corrosion at Kwaj may still linger in the minds of those at SpaceX, even though they will now use carbon fiber composites, instead of AL/Li in the tankage. In addition, any part of the Texas coast can be reached with either complete stages or spare parts far more cheaply in money and time than Kwaj can. It is the operational aspects that will concern them most in the future. This may mean that the coastal barges off the coasts will ultimately triumph as launch sites, especially if they move on from BFR/BFS to the full 12 meter diameter lifter they had planned on, later. The noise alone, at any coastal ground site, will cause problems with the human populations

    Too bad that Puerto Rico’s political tendencies toward political resource allocation rule them out, because they would still make a fine physical site.

  • Steve

    Getting large equipment into Wallops by road is a bit difficult.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    The part that failed was a B nut fitting in the RP-1 plumbing not the tank. Electron has plenty of metal parts and metal plumbing and KSC has plenty of salt air. This is not a factor with proper part treatments.

  • windbourne

    Ok, so many things wrong there.
    1) you speak about the corrosion at the island and then ignore the fact that South Texas landing pad is pretty much the same distance to the coast as on the island. IOW, corrosion will be at both.
    2) when transporting from LA to Texas, it will be a LONGER trip then going to Marshall island. In fact, LA to Panama is longer than LA to Marshall islands.
    3) yes, sending the other stuff will be cheaper to send to texas. OTOH, they already built a launch pad at Marshall. It would need some upgrades, but very doable.
    4) an RUD at Marshall will be dirt cheap esp compared to one at south texas.
    5) Puerto Rico suffers the same issue as Texas; far too many ppl. It would mean that they could not launch day/night, and again, if a RUD, very expensive to pay off surrounding areas.

    As to coastal barges, far more likely to use an old oil platform. Stable. Above the ocean and waves. Much cheaper.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    One thing the Corpus Christi area has over Kwaj is a major LOX industry. There’s LOX trucks in sight within a 5 min period driving the major streets there. And they’re so willing to serve you. I inquired about Air Liquid’s willingness to put a LOX truck on a barge to Matagorda Island to service a rocket project I was working on, and they said YES! In fact in 2013 they asked if I was with Space X. My bet is Space X and the LOX industry in Corpus Christi already have arrangements. Arrangements that are probably more difficult to make in Kwaj. I would Imagine after Antares someone set up a LOX farm nearby if not on site.

  • duheagle

    Giving credit where it’s due, Anthony Colangelo over at the Main Engine Cut-Off blog predicted this decision three months ago.

  • Larry J

    Wallops Island is at a significantly higher latitude than the Cape or their Texas site. That makes it less suitable for launches to GTO, which until now has been their bggest market. That could change when they start launching their LEO megaconstellation. Texas is slightly better than the Cape in latitude but is much more constrained in the range of orbital inclinations you can directly launch into. The Marshall Islands poise some significant logistics challenges and perhaps ITAR would be a problem.

  • windbourne

    never suggested doing real launches from there. They are likely going to make at least 20+ take-offs and landings before going to orbit. The further they are away from civilians, the better.

    And you do know that Marshall islands are an American territory. Yes? ITAR is a none issue.

  • Steve

    What is the cost of building a launch pad that is only used for R&D ? After going thru the regulatory hurdles and getting it built, the anticipated need may have past.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The Marshall Island site is just too remote for SpaceX, which is why they stopped using it.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The SpaceX site is near Brownsville, which is about 150 miles from Corpus Christi via the Intercoastal Waterway.

    There are currently no plans for space launch from Matagorda Island, but it would be better site then there current site by Brownsville. Not only is is more isolated, but is far enough around the Texas Coastal Bend to allow high inclination launches. Also there is an abandon USAF base on the north part of the island just begging to made into a spaceport, Indeed, Ben Bova did just that in his novel “Powersat”.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The number of options available to them were very limits and the Wallops Island facility was easily the best suited to the type of rockets they are launching.

  • duheagle

    Wallops has a lot going for it anent Rocket Lab. Kennedy/Canaveral would have meant constantly having to avoid being run over by three much larger launch companies. At Wallops, Rocket Lab can be the local equivalent of SpaceX.

    But that’s also true at Kodiak. And given that Rocket Lab has had previous non-trivial dealings with the folks there, I thought they might have an inside track. I guess that software configuration glitch that cut short an otherwise successful first mission for Rocket Lab must have bulked larger in the choice than I figured it would.

  • duheagle

    The Marshall Islands are a U.S. territory so ITAR is not an issue. What Steve said anent Wallops is even more true of Kwaj.

  • duheagle

    Don’t overreach. Sure SpaceX built a pad at Kwaj (Omelek Island, to beprecise). But it was for Falcon 1! “Need some upgrades?” Duh!

  • Robert G. Oler

    my guess is that you are correct about the Lox…something “old” but I recall from the Falcon 1 days they had to have it flown in by the USAF (thats old and I am really reaching on it) …the other thing is that for most people…living in south texas is an easier “live” then on Kwaj…although I have friends who have been there wow nearly 30 years 🙂

    other than increasing my property values down there…the entire thing in BC strikes me as “strange” …

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    There’s so little left of the base, it almost might as well have not been there. In 2012 when I went there, there was just about nothing left. Whoever goes out there for real will be starting from scratch. The locals are very helpful though.