Eastern Shore Sees New Roles in Aviation, Aerospace, Climate Change

June 10--Wallops Island and Accomack County had a big day Monday with the launch of two initiatives intended to carve out new operational and research roles in aviation, aerospace and climate change.

In the morning, Gov. Terry McAuliffe helped break ground on Wallops Research Park, proposed as a base of operations for private enterprises involved in drone research and medium-lift rocket launches. Then, in the afternoon, government officials and scientists signed on to a multi-state partnership to form the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Resiliency Institute, or MACRI.

Both events took place at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore.

Officials say they intend to make the research park a hub for aerospace and aviation operations, particularly for drones -- or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) -- as well as larger rocket launches from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), located at the nearby flight facility.

DelmarvaNow reported that McAuliffe said he believes the region can become "the aerospace capital of the globe."

MARS has already seen three launches of the medium-lift Antares rocket -- two last year as test launches, and a third earlier this year that was the first operational mission by Dulles-based Orbital Sciences Corp. to resupply the International Space Station. Orbital has a NASA commercial contract to make eight such resupply missions. The second, Orb-2, is tentatively set for July 1.

The groundbreaking over, officials said the research park is now ready for private development. Last year, the infrastructure work was funded through a $4 million county bond and a $4 million state grant. The county expects the infrastructure to be completed by the end of the year.

The coastal resiliency institute is a platform to integrate Earth science research to help localities adapt their coastal communities to a changing climate.

"To understand the impact of climate change elements such as sea level rise, extreme weather and degraded coastal ecosystems, you must go where the signal is strongest," Caroline Massey, assistant director for management operations at NASA Wallops, explained in a news release.

The region's broad and unique mix of developed and undeveloped coastline makes it a "perfect living laboratory" to study the effects of human and natural impacts, she said.

Along with NASA, partners in the endeavor include the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, which is affiliated with the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the U.S. Geologic Survey; Chincoteague Bay Field Station of the Marine Science Consortium; the University of Virginia; the University of Maryland; the University of Delaware; and The Nature Conservancy.

Dietrich can be reached by phone at 757-247-7892.

Antares launch reset

The Antares launch from Wallops Island to the International Space Station is now set for no earlier than July 1, NASA said Monday.

This is the second of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s eight commercial resupply missions to the space station under a NASA contract. The launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on the Eastern Shore has been rescheduled several times, most recently to investigate the cause of an engine failure in late May.

According to Orbital, its Cygnus cargo spacecraft is fueled and packed with payload -- except for late-load cargo -- for the space station crew.

Orbital said July 1 is only a planning date. For more information and for launch updates, go to http://www.orbital.com.

Copyright 2014 - Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

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