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September 18, 2012

Virginia, Orbital Announce New Agreement for Commercial Spaceport Use

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Commercial spaceflight is big news and apparently good politics in Virginia. 

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSAF) has reached a new agreement with Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences (News - Alert) Corporation, governing their working relationship and the allocation of assets at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS).

"The Commonwealth's partnership with Orbital will kick off a new era of commercial aerospace activity throughout the Commonwealth," said Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. "VCSFA's successful completion of the MARS spaceport development project and the impending commencement of on-pad operations, positions Virginia - with its business-friendly climate, tremendous institutions of higher education and diverse workforce - for continued growth in this vibrant high-tech market."

In 2008, Orbital partnered with VCSFA to develop and construct improvement to the MARS facility to accommodate launches of Orbital's Antares rocket.

Additions included infrastructure to handle and deliver liquid fuels to one of the MARS launch pads.

Under a second memorandum of understanding (MOU), Orbital and the VCSFA formally agree that Orbital will launch 10 Antares missions from the Wallops Island, Virginia MARS facility, including one test flight, a demonstration flight, and eight unmanned supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS). 

Virginia will fund completion of MARS improvements to support Antares missions and future customers, with the VCFSA ended up owning and operating all non-Antares-specific hardware that can be used by future additional customers.

The new MOU also covers the use of MARS by other customers during the term of Orbital's set of space station supply missions.

MARS is currently only one of four commercial facilities licensed in the U.S. to launch rockets into orbit. Orbital has used the MARS facility since 2006 to launch four Minotaur I solid rocket missions, putting four Department of Defense (DoD) satellites into orbit. 

Orbital's contract with NASA to delivery supplies to ISS puts the launch facility into higher prominence and a higher pace of operations. Under NASA's COTS development program, Orbital will conduct a test launch of the Antares rocket from Wallops this fall. 

A demonstration launch will then take place –potentially by the end of this year – using Antares to put Orbital's Cygnus unmanned cargo freighter into orbit for a rendezvous and berthing with ISS.  

NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract can start once the COTS flights are successfully completed. Orbital has a $1.9-billion contract to conduct eight supply missions to the space station between 2011 and 2015, delivering a total of around 20 metric of cargo. 

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Braden Becker

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