An Arizona-based aerospace company announced Thursday it will launch commercial missions from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
Vector Space Systems officials and Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne announced during a demonstration of the Vector-R launch vehicle at Launch Pad 0-B on Wallops Island that Vector has contracted to conduct three commercial orbital missions in the next two years from the Wallops spaceport, with an option for five additional launches.
"The addition of Vector as the newest customer at the spaceport helps establish Wallops Island in Virginia as a leading industry hub and a great way to maximize economic impact for our citizens here on the Eastern Shore," Layne said.
The company is working with the spaceport on a launch schedule that gets it flying to orbit by next summer, according to John Garvey, chief technology officer of Vector Space Systems.
Garvey said the company is "trying to take the best of what works at a big level — but sometimes you can tailor it at a smaller level to optimize it in a better way."
The Vector-R rocket is a small launch vehicle designed for frequent nanosatellite payload launches weighing up to 66 kilograms, according to a NASA news release.
The rocket is designed for more than 100 flights per year.
Vector's objective is to provide quick access to space for commercial customers.
"They want to go yesterday, and that's the time frame we're working on. And that's what we're offering, is dedicated launch, so that, when those customers sign up, they can go in a matter of days or months, not two years," Garvey said.
While the initial agreement is for three launches and an option for five more, Garvey said that "if we hit our business plan, we will blow through that much quicker than two years ... We hope we're coming back to Dale (Nash, executive director of the spaceport) saying, 'Hey, we need another 10 launches in the next three months' ... That's the type of stuff we're looking at."
The ability to accommodate such a quick turnaround and so many launches is "a major reason why we're here," he said, noting the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport staff "get it."
"We need flexibility, we need to be able to move fast, we need certainty," is what Vector hears from its customers, Garvey said, adding, "There's only very few (launch sites) that have the ability to act that way — and this is one of those."
The company hopes to show it can launch "in a day, or half a day,", if needed, from Wallops.
"The Commonwealth's support for space is evident in the continued investment in infrastructure here at Wallops," Layne said, noting the development over the past few years of two launch pads and an unmanned aerial systems airfield on Wallops Island, as well as of Wallops Research Park on the mainland.
Layne also serves as chairman of the Virginia Space Flight Authority Board of Directors.
The state has "a clear objective of attracting new businesses" in the space industry, he said.
"We have over $150 million, and climbing, of investment here at Wallops, and we want to make sure that our citizens see a return, so we're putting together a business plan that uses those facilities," he said.
"It's not just about going to the space station, which we do with our partners at Orbital — but we're prepared for the future with unmanned systems," he said, adding, "It's really great to see that Virginia's at the vanguard of this ... We want to develop a world-class asset here at Wallops Island."
That asset development will include construction of a new, dedicated payload facility on Wallops Island, which will help companies like Vector get payloads on their rockets more quickly, Layne said.
"This Vector rocket is a very revolutionary idea — it is faster, it is very capable, it's almost elegant in its simplicity," said Dale Nash, Virginia Space executive director.
"Smaller rockets in large quantity is right in our wheelhouse of strength," Nash said of the spaceport and its new relationship with Vector.
Bill Wrobel, executive director of NASA Wallops Flight Facility, said small satellites, such as the payloads Vector will carry on its rockets, have become more and more viable from a science research perspective.
"We're, no kidding, doing bona fide science on these small platforms now ... that's the shape of things to come," he said.
Vector Space Systems is one of the ways "those small launchers will be able to get into orbit," Wrobel said.