Virginia to Re-Examine Spaceport Deal After Explosion

Virginia is taking a new look at its deal with Orbital Sciences, following a rocket explosion on Wallops Island last month.

The unmanned rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff on Oct. 28, damaging a launchpad owned by the commonwealth. It may cost up to $20 million to repair.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe supports the commercial flight program, but wants to protect state money in the future, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported.

His administration may seek to renegotiate a memorandum of understanding and launch services agreement with the company, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Lane Jr. told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Lane said the administration supports the commercial spaceflight initiative but wants to ensure that the state's assets are protected.

"We're not going to have a repeat of this in the future," he said.

Lane said the explosion caused up to $20 million in damage to the launch pad's support systems, such as lightning protection and piping.

Orbital said earlier this month that preliminary results of its investigation point to a failure in one of the two main engines involved in the first stage of launch.

Virginia partnered with Dulles-based Orbital Sciences in 2008 to make improvements to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island. State bonds financed a large portion of the launch pad's nearly $150 million cost.

Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski told the Richmond Times Dispatch that the company is in talks with NASA and the commonwealth about repairs and Virginia's financial risk. The commonwealth self-insures the launch pad through the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.

McAuliffe also wants the federal government to pitch in for repairs to the launch pad. He's asked U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to look for federal funds to help pay for repairs.

Warner and Kaine pledged in a statement issued Tuesday that they would work with "colleagues from both parties, both chambers... to see if there may be federal resources available to help rebound from this setback."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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