ISS launch delayed at Wallops Island

ScienceBusinessBudgets and BudgetingNASAJohn F. KennedyWallops Island (Accomack, Virginia)Cape Canaveral

The company with a $1.9 billion NASA contract to ferry supplies from Virginia to the International Space Station has announced more delays to the project.

The first delivery will occur sometime between September and December, according to Dulles-basedOrbital Sciences Corp.’s website.

It had been planning a summer launch, but problems building a launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on the Eastern Shore forced the delay.

“Things have a slid a bit,” said Keith Koehler, spokesman at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, which is adjacent to the spaceport.

The pad’s fuel handling and pressurization system is the most immediate concern.

Gov. Bob McDonnell last year gave the spaceport’s administative arm, the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority, $10 million to fix the problem. The money came from the Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund, a grant program managed by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Zigmond Leszczynski, the authority’s deputy director, said in an email that the funding “provided critical assistance.” Yet the pad remains unfinished and McDonnell is lobbying the General Assembly for an additional $4 million.

Leszczynski did not return a phone call or email asking if the pad could be finished without the money. Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski did not return phone calls Thursday and Friday.

Both the House and Senate retained McDonnell’s request in their budget revisions. The Senate version was defeated last week. The full House approved a budget plan, which the Senate will consider starting Monday.

McDonnell, who says the spaceport will create hundreds of good-paying jobs, is also trying boost the authority’s budget from roughly $1.5 million to $15 million. The House budget includes the request.

J. Jack Kennedy, a member of the authority’s board of directors, said additional money is needed to keep pace with Orbital and attract new companies.

“The status quo will not sustain commercial spaceflight in Virginia,” he said.

Orbital is planning a demonstration launch from the spaceport in June or July. The rocket would dock at the space station but not deliver supplies.

NASA ceded the task to Orbital and another company, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, after retiring its space shuttle program. The move sparked criticism, expecially among states that lost jobs as a result.

SpaceX, under a $1.6 billion contract for 12 flights, has a demonstration launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., scheduled for April. Orbital’s contract is for eight flights, which would occur from 2012 to 2015. Initially, the company planned to begin supplying the space station in 2010.

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