The Neutron rockets to be launched from Wallops Island Flight Facility will have their engines tested elsewhere.
The Mississippi-based NASA's Stennis Space Center has been tapped by Rocket Lab as its engine test facility for its reusable Neutron rockets slated to launch from Wallops. Last week's announcement confirmed NASA's Archimedes Test Complex, located within the larger A Test Complex of Stennis, will act as such for a lease term of 10 years with an option for another decade upon the completion of the agreement.
The 1-million-square-foot facility will include exclusive use and development of existing industrial NASA infrastructure and the Center’s A-3 Test Stand to develop and test Neutron’s Archimedes reusable engines.
"Activities continue at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in preparation for Rocket Lab’s Neutron rocket pad and production facility," according to a NASA Wallops statement to Delmarva Now about current plans at Wallops. "Construction of the production facility outside of the Wallops Island gate has begun. Rocket Lab has targeted the first launch of the Neutron rocket from Wallops for no earlier than 2024."
The Launch Complex 2 at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility is a dedicated pad for Electron launches developed to support missions from U.S. soil for government and commercial customers.
NASA Wallops also said it, along with Rocket Lab and the Virginia Space Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, is preparing for the first two launches of the company’s Electron rocket targeted for December 2022 and January 2023.
Commercial and government interest in Neutron was strong, according to Rocket Lab, and included a recent $24 million development contract granted by the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Commands in support of Neutron’s capability to aid "national security and defense missions" ranging from scientific and experimental satellites to the largest and most critical national security payloads.
Rocket Lab also secured a capital investment incentive from the Mississippi Development Authority to further develop the facilities and infrastructure at Stennis for Neutron. B
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“Before rockets flew to the Moon, they first had to go through Mississippi, and as we build a new rocket to reshape space access once again, Stennis is a fitting location for Neutron," said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab Founder and CEO. "Creating a test complex from scratch to the scale and complexity needed to test and develop Archimedes would have had an inconceivably long lead time, so the fact that we’ve secured Stennis and can leverage its existing infrastructure and test stand puts us on the fast-track to Neutron’s first launch."
In February, Rocket Lab announced the selection of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility as the site for its upcoming rocket launch and the state for its manufacturing center, which could create up to 250 jobs in the area.
This manufacturing complex near Wallops for the Neutron will be located within proximity of Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2, the company’s first launch site in the United States. It was built specifically for the Electron rocket, the second-most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually since 2019.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for all involved and a huge economic boost for Accomack County. We look forward to watching Electron and Neutron Rocket launches from Virginia Space’s MARS Facility on Wallops Island," said Billy Joe Tarr, Accomack Board of Supervisors Chairman.
This article originally appeared on Salisbury Daily Times: NASA Wallops plans Rocket Lab Electron launches, Neutron facility