Chair Force Engineer

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Virginia is for Haters

The imminent launch of TacSat-2 aboard a Minotaur rocket has many Virginians (and plenty of people from Maryland as well) excited about their state's future in the space launch business. Their hope is that NASA's Wallops Island facility will host a boom in the space sector, and pour millions of dollars into the local economies.

Politically, this is a good thing. And it would seem that politics is the only thing going for Wallops, at least as far as orbital missions are concerned. As I've noted before, Wallops is less than ideal for orbital launches. It can hit far fewer inclinations than Cape Canaveral (due in part to overflight restrictions on Brazil and Bermuda) and provides less of the earth's rotational velocity to a rocket traveling on an easterly trajectory.

With all of these things working against Wallops, why would Orbital build a brand-new Minotaur pad there (especially when Minuteman pads at Cape Canaveral could have been modified for the task?) It's a good question for a certain DoD agency that wanted to use the Minotaur for a future mission requiring an easterly launch, and it's a good question for the Virginia and Maryland congressional delegations. For Orbital Sciences, having a launch pad near their offices in Dulles, Virginia is a definite plus.

I really can't say if the current slate of Minotaur missions (TacSat-2 and two more DoD launches in 2007) is indicative of the future for Wallops. My guess is that it's not a sign of real prosperity, as Minotaur has little chance of commercial viability apart from DoD launches. And for all we know, Falcon I might have the bugs ironed out in time to replace the Minotaur for future DoD missions in the same class. Falcon I will launch from Omelek Island, which is great for all the reasons that Wallops is bad, but it's a bitch logistically since it's so far from the continental US (the one area where Wallops is great.)

Maybe it's the fact that I spent four of the best years of my life in Central Florida, but I'll take Cape Canaveral for my east-coast launch needs anyday.