Virginia Is for (Rocket) Lovers:
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va — Concerns about high-upper level winds and cloud ceilings failed to materialize this past Wednesday as NASA and Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corporation successfully launched the second Antares rocket and the first Cygnus spacecraft toward the International Space Station. The launch served to highlight the growing presence of Orbital as a launch service provider—and Virginia as a launch site.
In some ways the general terrain of the location is eerily similar to that of Cape Canaveral in Florida—in other ways not so much. The area is dominated by rows of corn, soy beans, and chicken farms. While both are near the ocean, Wallops Flight Facility is cool this time of year, with various species of water fowl dotting the skies and surrounding marshes—far different than the muggy temperatures found at Cape Canaveral.
As far as the public goes, some Cape Canaveral residents live as close as eight miles from an active pad. Pad-0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (where Wednesday’s launch took place) is about two miles from some residents. So close, in fact, that those homes were paid a visit and any residents were asked to step outside.
While this might seem counter-intuitive, it, in fact, made good sense. If there was, in the words of Orbital’s Frank Culbertson, “an over-pressure event,” the proximity of the homes coupled with the acoustics could have seen said homes have their windows blown out (in). As such, residents looking out those windows faced a serious threat.
In terms of space flight, Virginia is a very different animal. The atmosphere is more relaxed than at Cape Canaveral, but the normal requirements are in place. The viewing site at Wallops is about one mile closer to the pad than in Florida, providing an extra exciting exclamation point to liftoff.
Shortly after the first launch of Antares this past April, a representative from another aerospace firm mocked the repeated use of the word “nominal” by Orbital’s Mike Dorsch—a fact touched on during the post-launch press conference by Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group, Frank Culbertson. When these comments were mentioned afterward, one member of the media replied, “I think the real problem is that they don’t hear half as many ‘nominals’ during one of their missions.” Ouch.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Meanwhile, down in the Sunshine State, another element of the AmericaSpace team pulled some long hours to document the liftoff of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 531 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41). Launch was slated to take place at 3:04 a.m. EDT; it didn’t occur until 4:10 a.m. EDT. This was in large part due to a wayward boat off the coast.
Night launches, while great for the public, are generally a disappointment for photographers, as the images are “blown” out (washed out with light). However, in this case the AmericaSpace team utilized the resources on hand and managed to pull some stunning images out of the dark.
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