The Rocket Lab USA Electron rocket is ready for a planned Friday launch. Photo: Trevor Mahlmann

Wallops Island’s 1st Electron Commercial Rocket Launch to be Visible from Bay Region

If all goes according to plan, Wallops Island will experience an aerospace industry first this Friday evening.

Rocket Lab USA is scheduled to launch America’s first Electron rocket at 6 p.m. EST, Friday, Dec. 9. from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, supported by NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

The mission, cleverly named “Virginia is for Launch Lovers,” will deploy radio frequency monitoring satellites for HawkEye 360, NASA says. The Electron rocket they’ll travel with is 59 feet tall.

The launch, of course, is dependent on weather and other conditions. The launch window is from 6-8 p.m. On a clear night, the launch may be visible to people throughout much of the U.S. East Coast. NASA says viewing locations on Chincoteague Island include Robert Reed Park on Main Street or Beach Road spanning the area between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. The Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Atlantic beaches are also good viewing spots. The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will be open for this launch. 

You can watch from wherever you are thanks to a live launch webcast. Watch at rocketlabusa.com/live-stream beginning about 40 minutes before launch.

NASA Wallops Island has a 35-year history of supporting the commercial launch industry. NASA says Rocket Lab USA’s Electron is part of a growing “low-Earth space economy”.

The “Virginia Is For Launch Lovers” mission will be the first of three Electron launches for HawkEye 360, which provides geospatial analytics for radio frequencies. Between now and 2024, Rocket Lab will deliver 15 satellites to low Earth orbit, growing HawkEye 360’s constellation of radio frequency monitoring satellites, allowing for more precise geolocation of radio frequency emissions anywhere in the world.

“We are honored to support the launch of this historic mission”, says Ted Mercer, CEO and Executive Director of Virginia Space.

Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck calls the mission “a pivotal milestone for Virginia’s long legacy in spaceflight.”

Meanwhile, work is underway on Rocket Lab USA’s rocket manufacturing facility and cutting-edge launch pad on Wallops Island, designed for its Neutron rocket. The company broke ground on the 250,000-square-foot facility and 28-acre site back in April. It’s expected to bring about 250 jobs to Virginia’s Eastern Shore and is predicted to be complete by 2024.

“In addition to being Rocket Lab’s first and only U.S. launch location, we will also be building rockets and processing their payload right here in Accomack County—something that has never been done in Virginia,” says Mercer. “Our partnership with Rocket Lab is a unique opportunity for the Commonwealth of Virginia to create long-term economic development opportunities in the form of high-paying jobs, launch viewing tourism, and construction of new facilities on the Eastern Shore.”

This weekend’s Electron mission will be the first from the U.S., but Rocket Lab has already launched Electron 32 times from their complex in New Zealand, delivering satellites into orbit for customers like NASA, DARPA, and commercial operators. Electron is the most frequently launched small orbital rocket in the world, Rocket Lab says.

If the conditions aren’t right and Rocket Lab is forced to scratch the “Virginia is for Launch Lovers” initial window, the company will look to backup days Dec. 10-20.

-Meg Walburn Viviano