Virginia Governor Northam Announces Proposal for Rocket Lab USA to Expand U.S. Manufacturing and Launch Operations in Accomack County

Neutron booster (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Aerospace leader expected to make significant investment for construction of new Production, Assembly, Integration and Test facility, prepare for launch of new Neutron rocket

RICHMOND, Va. (Gov. Northam PR) — Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Accomack County is a finalist for a proposed expansion by Rocket Lab USA, Inc., a global leader in launch services and space systems, which expects to make a significant investment to expand its U.S. manufacturing and launch operations. If selected, the proposal would see Rocket Lab develop a new facility to support part production, assembly, integration and test operations to support the launch of its new Neutron rocket from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Announced by Rocket Lab in March 2021, the Neutron rocket is expected to be operational in late 2024 and is designed to deliver a 17,600 pound payload to low Earth orbit, and may ultimately support human spaceflight. 

Due to its size, large assemblies of the Neutron launch vehicle are expected to be produced close to the selected launch site to minimize logistical and operational costs.

“The prospect of Rocket Lab coming to Accomack is incredible for someone who grew up just a few miles from Wallops Island,” said Governor Ralph S. Northam. “I used to love watching rockets take off when I was a kid. Years later, I’m excited to work with Rocket Lab to help create exciting new opportunities near my family home on the Eastern Shore. Wallops Island is one of just four major launch sites in the United States—and the only one located in the country’s best state for business. I’m so proud of the work our Virginia team has done to get to this final step. I challenge everyone on the Commonwealth’s team, and everyone at Rocket Lab, to get this project over the finish line—and propel Rocket Lab and Virginia’s Eastern Shore to new heights.”

Founded in 2006, Rocket Lab is an end-to-end space company with an established track record of mission success. The company delivers reliable launch services, spacecraft components, satellites, other spacecraft as well as on-orbit management solutions that make it faster, easier, and more affordable to access space. Headquartered in Long Beach, California, Rocket Lab designs and manufactures the Electron small orbital launch vehicle and the Photon satellite platform and is developing the Neutron 8-ton payload class launch vehicle. Since its first orbital launch in January 2018, Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle has become the second most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually and has delivered 109 satellites to orbit for private and public sector organizations, enabling operations in national security, scientific research, space debris mitigation, Earth observation, climate monitoring, and communications. Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft platform has been selected to support NASA missions to the Moon and Mars as well as the first private commercial mission to Venus.

If selected, the proposal would result in Rocket Lab’s expansion to two launch pads on Wallops Island; one to support the Electron launch vehicle, and another for Neutron.

“An expanded partnership with Rocket Lab would accelerate our shared mission to provide agile, responsive access to space,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Through great collaboration among the Commonwealth, Virginia Space, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and industry leader Rocket Lab, this proposal would continue to develop Wallops Island as a world-class launch site and a strategic national asset.”

“Rocket Lab is a leader in launch technology, and its decision to expand its U.S. operations in Accomack County would be a testament to the Commonwealth’s position as an aerospace industry leader,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “This would be a huge win for the Eastern Shore and for all of Virginia, and we hope to build upon our strong partnership with Rocket Lab for years to come.”

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Accomack County, the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space), and the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission to secure funding for the proposed project for the Commonwealth.

Subject to approval by the General Assembly, the Commonwealth proposes supporting the project through a one-time $30 million appropriation to Virginia Space for the infrastructure and operational systems. These improvements to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport will enhance the capabilities of the Spaceport to support existing programs and provide access for new customers like Rocket Lab. The MEI Project Approval Commission approved an investment of up to $15 million to support site improvements and construction of a building to be owned by Virginia Space and leased to Rocket Lab as part of the proposal. The new facility would be constructed on a 28-acre site in proximity to the Wallops Island Flight Facility, which was purchased by Virginia Space in 2021.

Support for Rocket Lab’s job creation would be provided through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a workforce initiative created by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in collaboration with the Virginia Community College System and other higher education partners, with funding support from the Northam administration and the Virginia General Assembly. Launched in 2019, the program accelerates new facility start-ups through the direct delivery of recruitment and training services that are fully customized to a company’s unique products, processes, equipment, standards, and culture. All program services are provided at no cost to qualified, new, and expanding companies as an incentive for job creation.

Rocket Lab is currently working with NASA to secure all necessary agreements and certifications for launches from Wallops Island.

“Virginia’s Eastern Shore has a rich history in the aerospace sector, and Rocket Lab’s new facility in Accomack County would be a tremendous win for the region and the Commonwealth,” said Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission Chair Senator Janet Howell. “We are confident that the Commonwealth is the optimal location for this important project, and are proud the MEI Commission could play a role.”

“Rocket lab’s manufacturing and launch operations would be a significant addition to Virginia’s booming aerospace sector, and I am pleased the MEI Commission could collaborate with our state, regional, and local partners on this transformational project,” said Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission Vice Chair Delegate Luke Torian.

“Virginia Space hopes to continue our already outstanding relationship with a premiere company like Rocket Lab,” said Major General Ted Mercer, USAF (ret), CEO and Executive Director, Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. “We were able to leverage our existing world-class assets and the significant investment the Commonwealth has made at MARS to enhance our capability, which will be instrumental in convincing Rocket Lab to expand their operations and bring a new mission to Virginia. This would be a win-win for Rocket Lab, the Commonwealth, and our nation!”

“On behalf of Accomack County, I want to thank Rocket Lab for considering the County as the location to manufacture and launch the Neutron Rocket,” said Accomack Board of Supervisors Chairman Billy Joe Tarr. “This would be a tremendous opportunity for all involved and a huge economic boost for Accomack County. We hope to watch Electron and Neutron Rocket launches from Virginia Space’s MARS Facility on Wallops Island in the near future.”   

“Today is a very important day for Accomack County,” said Accomack County Administrator Michael Mason. “Rocket Lab’s proposed plans, along with the efforts of our partners Virginia Space, Virginia Economic Development Partnership and NASA Wallops, would put the Commonwealth of Virginia and Accomack County in a position to be a leader in the aerospace launch and manufacturing industry. We look forward to the opportunity to welcome Rocket Lab and the future successes they would undoubtedly bring to the entire Eastern Shore.”

“The proposal to expand Rocket Lab USA in Accomack is an exciting opportunity that would bring 250 jobs to the Eastern Shore of Virginia and help to solidify Virginia’s role as a national leader in the space industry,” said Representative Elaine G. Luria. “ I am proud to support initiatives that will help create economic opportunities for the Eastern Shore.”

“Rocket Lab’s new operation in Accomack County would be a game changer for the Eastern Shore and the Commonwealth, and even more economic activity would flow from this great project,” said Senator Lynwood Lewis. “We are thrilled that Virginia is a finalist for this expansion, and hope to build a lasting partnership with this industry-leading company.” 

“I appreciate the hard work by all sides that have gotten us to this point as a finalist,” said Delegate Robert Bloxom“Rocket Lab would be a welcome addition to the Virginia Spaceport and Accomack County. I am sure with the great workforce and the infrastructure currently offered by NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Rocket Lab will choose to expand their operations on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.”

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, the MARS Payload Processing Facility, and the Integration and Control Facility in Wallops Research Park. 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 FAA to launch spacecraft into orbit or on interplanetary trajectories. For more information, visit www.vaspace.org.