A Small Victory for Virginia in the Space Race

Artist’s rendering of an Antares launch.

Awesome! The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA) has inked a deal with Dulles-based Orbital Sciences Corporation under which the state of Virginia will fund completion of improvements to the Wallops Island space-launch facility and Orbital will launch 10 Antares rocket missions from it.

The rocket launches include one test flight, one demonstration flight and eight resupply missions to the International Space Station. The deal with the state updates an earlier agreement made in 2008.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) is one of only four commercial facilities licensed in the United States to launch rockets into orbit. “As the U.S. space program increases its reliance on the commercial sector, these types of partnerships will not only help keep America competitive in the space industry, but will help create much-needed jobs and economic development,” stated Governor Bob McDonnell in a press release.

Said Dale Nash, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority: “Our partnership with Orbital not only expands our launch capabilities, but demonstrates to the entire space community that Virginia is a leader in the commercial aerospace industry.”

Surely the importance of cis-lunar space (within the moon’s orbit) will continue to grow, driven by the increasing use of communications satellites, weather satellites, the militarization of space, the use of near-earth-orbit facilities as platforms for scientific research and space exploration, and, one day, the production of energy by means of orbiting solar-voltaic arrays. As one of the first gateways to space, MARS could become as important to Virginia’s economy one day as the maritime port of Hampton Roads or the airport at Dulles.

The McDonnell administration deserves credit for making MARS a priority and — sit down for this, ladies and gentlemen — the Obama administration deserves credit for restructuring and privatizing America’ space program.


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  1. DJRippert Avatar

    I’ll never understand you, Jim. You foam at the mouth when the state of Virginia spends money without an ROI analysis on a road but write a post about how awesome it is for Virginia to ” … fund completion of the Wallops Island Space Launch Facility … “.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. My personal belief system is to think the glass is half full with infrastructure and economic development projects but to see a half empty glass when it comes to entitlement program expansion. It’s hard to say what you see. The Charlottesville Bypass can be studied for 2o years and you just can’t write enough negative posts. But McDonnell issues a single, fluffy press release about state spending at Wallops Island and you get all goo goo eyed.

    Is there some ROI which shows why this is a positive deal for Virginia?

    You also show great disdain for “normal” transportation projects because you feel that VMT will go down (or, at least, slow in growth). But, here you are, cheering for commercial spaceport expansion based on “future additional customers” (according to McDonnell’s press release).

    I would not have been surprised if I had written this post. But you? Where is the “tight fisted” fiscal conservative that preferes things to “bubble up” rather than flow down from on high? Have we discovered that your disinterest in professional sports is matched only by your wonderment at all things Buck Rogers?

  2. I confess, I abandon all other principles when it comes to furthering Virginia’s movement into the space age. I do not scrutinize the ROI for this deal which, in my world view, exists in a class entirely by itself. If we were actually spending serious dollars on the project, I would think differently. But we’re talking chump change.

    According to this press release, McDonnell pledged to “support a ten-fold increase in the base funding for the spaceport operations, to bring them to $1 million dollars annually.”

    One million dollars a year? You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s a rounding error on a rounding error in the state transportation budget! Getting a jump on the commercialization of cis-lunar space will creation multi-billion dollar economic opportunities!

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      For $1 per year, I could have sold the naming rights to the launch facility?

      Wallops Island? Are the Wallops’ paying for any of this?

      The Til Hazel Spaceport!

      Hey, Til – It’s a bargain at $10M per year.

      My “finder’s fee”? 20%.

  3. What’s the ROI for Va to spur STEM technology and Universities?

    and also, I never quite caught what exactly Obama did that Jim liked. How about a little more on that?

    but in both cases – you have the Clown-show State and the job-killing Feds doing something that is “good”?

    unbelievable! Tell me again what the difference is between this and Solyndra?

  4. re: HB 813: ….. ” ….., each fiscal year the bill transfers $9.5 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to the Commonwealth Space Flight Fund administered by the Board of Directors of the Authority to support the capital needs, maintenance, and operating costs of facilities owned and operated by the Authority. ”

    so… this thing is funded from Virginians who pay gas taxes on their fuel purchases?

    I wonder if Jim still supports this knowing that the money comes from people who are paying gas taxes ostensibly to pay for the roads they need and drive on?

    1. Thanks for the fact check regarding state support, Larry.

      I confess, I have not conducted my due diligence on the worthiness of the spaceport. For all I nkow, MARS is corporate welfare for Orbital Sciences. Upon close inspection the deal may violate my most sacredly held libertarian principles. Still… every fiber in my being cries out, “This is awesome!”

      No, it’s better than that. It’s super awesome.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Such deeply contradictory views are disturbing. You may need counseling.

  6. Jeeze Bacon… it’s stuff like this that undermines the whole idea of user pays and confirms the often spoken suspicions that the reason roads
    are lacking funding is because the money is being diverted to other things like transit, sidewalks, trails, and now space ports.

    there is a powerful anti-toll sentiment that is premised in part on the suspicion that tolls would not be needed if we actually spent the tax money on roads…. rightly or wrongly, this kind of thing will only given them more fodder.

    Why.. I bet this money actually came out of NoVa transpo allocations… 🙂

  7. Gee whiz, Buck, that was cool! Although that asteroid was a little close – whew! What’s our next destination?

    I agree with Jim. Let’s spend more on spaceships and less on roads. A lot more fun and a better investment too.

  8. I doubt seriously that Bacon would agree with diverting road taxes to some other purpose because he knows once you do it for one thing, you end up doing it for others, and ultimately the whole idea of a dedicated revenue stream for transportation just goes away.

    People should also be aware that 1/2% of the sales tax is also dedicated to transportation – i.e. the general fund – paying for transportation.

    And it’s not chump change – it’s about 500 million dollars which is equivalent to ten cents of gas tax.

    1. Larry, you are correct. I would support the funds for Wallops Island to come from the one-half cent sales tax dedicated to transportation generally, not from the gas tax dedicated to roads.

  9. Very tricky!

    so you’d be in favor of the 500 million – all of it – going back into the general fund?

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