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Groundbreaking Ceremony Monday for New Rocket Construction Project

A groundbreaking ceremony next Monday at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore is further evidence of the wisdom of Old Dominion University's mid-1990s investment in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

On Monday, June 29, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski will join David W. Smith, assistant secretary of commerce and transportation for the commonwealth of Virginia, and David W. Thompson, chairman and CEO of Orbital Sciences Corp., at a groundbreaking ceremony for Orbital's Taurus II space launch vehicle.

The event will commemorate the official beginning of construction on launch facilities for the company's Taurus II, and its related work for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

It's a $45 million project for Dulles, Va.-based Orbital to assemble, test and launch the Taurus II, all of which will take place at the Wallops Flight Facility, a commercial satellite launching facility run by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA).

The authority was formed in the mid-1990s when plans arose to decommission the former NASA site at Wallops Island. Built in 1945, the site has seen more than 15,000 satellite launches.

Investing in salaries for two executives of the VCSFA (including current executive director Billie Reed, an ODU engineering professor), Old Dominion helped transform Wallops into a spaceport designed to support commercial launches.

The VCSFA also has a mandate to disseminate technical knowledge about space flight to public- and private-sector clients, and promote economic development throughout Virginia's Eastern Shore.

"We rose to the occasion at ODU when we invested in this," said Oktay Baysal, dean of ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, and himself an aerospace engineer. "We have been waiting for activities to pick up for eight to 10 years now."

Projects such as the Taurus II, and the Tactical Satellite-3 launch in May, demonstrate the value of the spaceport as a commercial hub. For one thing, the launch path from Wallops into orbit passes over almost entirely ocean waters, decreasing the liability for agencies launching rockets.

Orbital Sciences Corp. develops and manufactures small- and medium-class rockets and space systems for commercial, military and government customers. The company's primary products are satellites and launch vehicles; human-rated space systems for Earth-orbit, lunar and other missions; ground- and air-launched rockets; and missile defense systems that are used as interceptor and target vehicles.

Orbital also provides satellite subsystems and space-related technical services to government agencies and laboratories.

This article was posted on: June 25, 2009

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