A commercial rocket manufacturing and launch facility is coming to Wallops Island, Va., bringing Eastern Shore jobs with it. This week, Rocket Lab USA, Inc. broke ground on the new facility.
What Rocket Lab USA intends to build on Wallops is a production complex and launch pad for their new Neutron rocket. The launch pad will be built at the southern end of the island. The 250,000 square foot production complex will be built on a 28-acre site adjacent to the Wallops Flight Facility. It will even house a Launch Control Center. There should be about 250 good jobs at the complex.
The Neutron rocket is designed primarily for launching satellites or payloads up to 8 tons in weight. It has the ability to land back at its launch site. According to Rocket Lab USA founder and CEO Peter Beck, the Neutron “is ideal for assured access to space for the nation’s most critical missions, deep space exploration, and potentially human spaceflight. Neutron will be the world’s first carbon composite large launch vehicle, powered by in-house designed and manufactured Archimedes reusable rocket engines.”
Beck also explained why the Wallops site was chosen. “Virginia is home to an active and experienced aerospace workforce we can pull from to support Neutron’s development and launch. I’m thankful for the Commonwealth’s enthusiasm and backing of Neutron which, combined with the state’s rich heritage as an aerospace state, made it difficult to see anywhere else but Virginia to begin Neutron’s journey.”
Virginia did provide financial incentives as well. Thirty million dollars has been set aside for infrastructure and operational systems improvements to the Wallops Flight Facility. There will also be $15 million from the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission in support of Neutron. Virginia Governor Glen Youngkin, who dreamed of being an astronaut when he was a child, said, “Virginia’s industrial and innovation ecosystem and skilled workforce make the Commonwealth an optimal location for industry leaders like Rocket Lab.”
Rocket Lab is based in California. They have additional locations in Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, and now Virginia. They provide research as well as launch capabilities for satellites. They have completed over 100 launches, and launched over 100 satellites. They are highly innovative. On their next mission, they plan on catching the used first stage mid-air as it returns to earth. A helicopter will hook the parachute and take the whole package right back to the refurbish hangar.
The Wallops Island complex should be up, running, and launching rockets as soon as 2024. For more information on Rocket Labs USA or the Neutron rocket, check out rocketlabusa.com.