BERLIN – The local economy could see a significant, immediate boost from a multi-billion dollar NASA initiative out of Wallops Island Spaceport to put 20 metric tons of space station supplies into orbit over the next several years.
The next seven years will see eight space resupply flights take off from Wallops Island Spaceport after Orbital Sciences Corporation of Virginia won a $1.9 billion contract to ferry supplies to the International Space Station after the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet. Resupply flights are slated to start in 2010.
“We’ll start feeling that this year, almost immediately, in a matter of months,” said Jerry Redden, economic development director for Worcester County.
Orbital will need to move fast to finish the necessary improvements by the first launch.
“It means Wallops will become a world-class, international facility, launching critical supplies to our astronauts in space and also launching new jobs and new sustainable economic growth on the Eastern Shore,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski, chair of the United States Senate Appropriations Subcommittee.
The project will get off the ground soon, according to Redden. Contracts to build the launch pads should go out in the next couple of months. Redden also mentioned new buildings and cryogenic tanks. The project is a strong opportunity for local builders, he felt.
“It’ll start accelerating very quickly. They’ll be spending a lot of money in ’09,” said Redden. “They’re going to launch in ’10. Can’t let the grass grow.”
Mikulsi said, “It’s exciting to see these investments pay off in such a meaningful way for this community, especially in today’s uncertain economic times.”
Redden estimated that 60 percent of the skilled workers needed for the resupply operation would come from Maryland. Staff also expects many of those workers to buy property and live over the Maryland line. The new project also ties into Worcester County’s popular aerospace internship program. As Wallops Island and related concerns expand, local young people will have a chance to come back to the Eastern Shore to create a career.
“This takes us into a world class facility,” said Redden, who has been closely involved with Wallops Island and the Mid-Atlantic Institute for Space and Technology facility in Pocomoke City. “We’re competing against the French and Chinese and Russians.”