U.S. rocket launch pad repair set to halt in funding spat

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 26, 2015 3:13 PM

By irene klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla (Reuters) - Work to repair a Virginia-owned launch pad damaged by an Orbital ATK rocket explosion is about to halt amid a debate about who should pick up the bill, officials involved in the dispute told Reuters.

The Oct. 28, 2014 accident at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), located on Wallops Island, Virginia, caused about $20 million in damages to the state-owned launch pad.

Orbital was launching its third Antares mission for NASA under a $1.9 billion contract to fly cargo to the International Space Station.

Orbital had insurance to cover its losses at Wallops, as well as damage to federal property and other entities as required by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial launches in the United States. That insurance, however, does not cover the MARS pad owned by Virginia, according to spokespeople for the company and the FAA.

A funding solution may come as Orbital talks to Virginia officials and NASA, which owns and operates the Wallops Flight Facility.

MARS Executive Director Dale Nash said the question of financial liability is under discussion. Nash confirmed reports that the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, which oversees the spaceport, will be out of money by the end of the month for repair work.

Nash declined to say if Virginia, which spent about $100 million to build the launch pad, had insured its property. Virginia leases its launch site from NASA.

The state last year successfully lobbied for a $20 million addition to NASA’s 2015 budget for the launch pad repairs, which was included in the Omnibus spending bill Congress passed and President Obama signed in December.  Those funds, however, have not yet been released, said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel.   

Sources told Reuters the NASA Office of Inspector General is investigating, but officials there declined to comment.   

Meanwhile, Orbital said it is working with NASA and Virginia to come to an agreement on funding launch pad repairs.   

“We are optimistic that we are nearing a path forward that is agreeable to all parties and will enable work to continue without disruption,” said Orbital spokesman Barry Beneski.

(Editing by Andrew Hay)