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History of MARS


Establishment of Virginia Space/MARS

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia created the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA), also known as ‘Virginia Space,' in 1995 to promote the development of the commercial space flight industry, economic development, aerospace research, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education throughout the Commonwealth.

In 1997, Virginia Space entered into a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA, which provided for permitted use of land on NASA Wallops Island for the MARS launch pads. Virginia Space also applied for and was granted an FAA license to launch to orbit. This lead to establishment of the Virginia Space Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), located on the southern portion of NASA Wallops Island. MARS is approved for launch azimuths from 38 to 60 degrees, making it an ideal location from which to launch to the International Space Station (ISS).

In 2007, NASA selected Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Orbital ATK) to participate in the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and then selected Orbital for a follow-on Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) contract to build and demonstrate a new rocket, Antares, to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). The CRS contract authorized eight missions from 2012 to 2015 carrying approximately 20,000 kg of cargo to ISS as well as disposal of waste. These launches were to take place from the new state-of-the-art MARS Pad 0A.

On MARS Pad 0B, VCSFA made modifications and upgrades to launch the NASA Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission to the Moon in mid 2013 on a new Orbital Sciences Minotaur V launch vehicle. Also in mid 2013, the USAF  launched ORS-3 from MARS Pad 0B.

Launch Operations

MARS is a fully operational and dynamic spaceport. Since its establishment, five missions have launched from MARS Pad 0A and six missions have launched from MARS Pad 0B:

On MARS Pad 0A, launched Orbital Sciences Antares launch vehicle:

  • Test Flight to orbit, 4-21-2013.
  • Cargo resupply demo mission to International Space Station (ISS), 9-18-2013.
  • Orb-1/CRS-1 Mission to ISS, 1-9-2014.
  • Orb-2/CRS-2 Mission to ISS, 7-13-2014.
  • Orb-3/CRS-3 Mission to ISS, 10-28-2014; Antares launch vehicle failure shortly after launch caused damage to the pad which is in repair for the next cargo launch to ISS in early 2016.

On MARS Pad 0B, launched:

  • TacSat-2 to orbit, 12-16-2006, on a Minotaur I launch vehicle.
  • NFIRE (Near Field Infra Red Experiment) to orbit, 4-27-2007, on a Minotaur I launch vehicle.
  • TacSat-3 to orbit, 5-19-2009, on a Minotaur I launch vehicle.
  • ORS-1 (Operationally Responsive Space) to orbit, 6-29-2011, on a Minotaur 1 launch vehicle.
  • NASA Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) to the Moon, 9-6-2013 on the first Minotaur V launch vehicle.
  • ORS-3 to orbit, 11-19-2013, on a Minotaur 1 launch vehicle.

Business Incentives

Development of the commercial aerospace industry in Virginia has had a tremendous economic impact. According to a report by the Performance Management Group (PMG)at VCU entitled, Competitive Analysis of Virginia's Space Industry, the Virginia space industry contributes $7.6 billion in annual direct economic output and directly supports 29,638 jobs. Virginia holds a number of competitive advantages among those states excelling in the space industry. MARS is one of only several sites licensed by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation to launch to orbit. Additionally, Virginia is home to the NASA Langley Research Center (LARC) and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and as such is recipient of a large portion of the Federal budget for Space. Finally, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Virginia ranks first in the number of scientists and engineers as a percentage of workforce, third in the concentration of high-tech jobs as a percentage of workforce, and sixth in non-industry investment in research and development.

State economic development benefits, legislation, and zones established to encourage commercial space business in Virginia include the following:

  • "ZeroGravity, ZeroTax" that provides state income tax incentives to locate and headquarter space flight launch and training business operations in Virginia;
  • Spaceflight Liability and Immunity Law, where the space flight entity is not liable for a participant injury, resulting from the risks of space flight activities in Virginia;
  • FOIA relief to the customer, when doing business with VCSFA MARS;
  • Enterprise Zone established at MARS; and
  • Foreign Trade Zone established at MARS.