Chair Force Engineer

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Launch Constraint

The problem with launching an orbital mission from Wallops Island in Virginia is one of overflight constraints. Launches below 38 degrees inclination overfly the US east coast and are forbidden. If you launch to higher than 50 degrees, you start to overfly eastern Brazil. Anything steeper than 55 degrees is also forbidden.

You might be saying that 38 to 55 degrees is still a pretty good spread. However, we then run into the problem of overflying Bermuda. Not only can't you overfly Bermuda, but there's also a 100 nm exclusion zone surrounding Bermuda. This zone seems pretty large in my estimation. Perhaps it's there for political reasons, or perhaps there are small, inhabited islands within that exclusion zone. In any case, it forces any launches between 41 and 50 degrees to execute a dog-leg maneuver, which robs your launch vehicle of performance.

For these reasons, I really don't understand why anybody would want to put a launch pad for an orbital rocket at Wallops. Most of the orbital launches at Wallops have been the Pegasus, which can be dropped over the ocean and is not subject to the same smothering constraints that launches from land are subjected to. Perhaps you can launch into sun-sync orbits from Wallops, but that will still require an overflight of Central America. And the last thing we need right now is to give Venezuela's Hugo Chavez another reason to think that America is trying to kill him. In any case, Cape Canaveral remains the best existing facility for easterly launches in the US, and Vandenberg is the best place for near-polar and retrograde orbits.