Virginia Space Makes History
Activity at MARS Launch Site Takes Off
The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, known as Virginia Space, was created in 1995 to promote space activity and research in the Commonwealth. Virginia Space established the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, appropriately known as MARS, in 1997 and colocated the spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Virginia’s long history in the aerospace industry dates back to 1917, when the Commonwealth partnered with NASA’s predecessor to establish the nation’s first civil aeronautics lab.
Today, MARS is one of only four commercial sites authorized by the FAA for orbital space launches in the U.S. The spaceport includes two launch pads to accommodate both liquid and solid fuel vehicles. MARS’ location offers an ideal trajectory for earth orbit insertion, and through its partnership with NASA, provides a full range of services to ensure safe and low-cost access to space.
Over the last year, activity at MARS has taken off. Virginia Space has built strong public-private partnerships and has launched a number of historic missions with two of its partners — NASA and Orbital Sciences, a Virginia-based company.
In 2013, MARS completed both the test launch and demonstration mission for the Antares program, part of Orbital Sciences’ contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station. In January 2014, MARS completed the first of eight Antares resupply missions to the ISS, which will deliver more than 40,000 pounds of cargo over the next few years. These missions will deliver food, clothing and research supplies to the crew members of the ISS, allowing them to carry out scientific experiments in a microgravity research lab.
2013 also marked the first deep-space launch from MARS through the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) Mission. The LADEE Mission was also the first payload to launch on the U.S. Air Force’s Minotaur V rocket, built by Orbital Sciences. The LADEE spacecraft orbited around the moon for a 100-day science phase to collect data and study the lunar atmosphere. Scientists hope to determine the density, composition and variability of the moon’s atmosphere, as well as learn more about the lunar dust environment.
MARS made history again in November 2013 when Orbital Sciences launched the first satellite built by a team of a high school students. The satellite is a CubeSat called TJ3SAT that was designed, built and tested by more than 50 students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va. TJ3SAT currently allows students from around the world to freely access the satellite by sending strings of text to theTJ3SAT website. Approved messages are transmitted to the satellite, where they are converted to voice signals and transmitted back to Earth using amateur radio frequency. Orbital Sciences launched TJ3SAT with 27 other CubeSats from MARS aboard a Minotaur I rocket as part of its ORS-3 mission for the U.S. Air Force.
This collaboration and emphasis on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) illustrates part of the reason for Virginia’s success in the space industry — the strong preparation of students for careers in advanced fields, such as aerospace. Almost 19,000 science and engineering students are currently pursuing graduate degrees, and more than 1,100 doctorate degrees in science and engineering are awarded annually from Virginia universities.
The historic launches in 2013 and 2014 from Virginia’s MARS facility are building excitement and momentum around the Commonwealth’s space industry, and the Antares program ensures that there will be many more significant launches in the years to come. To learn more about Virginia’s leadership in the space industry and why more than 230 aerospace companies call the Commonwealth home, click here.
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