After rocket explosion, Orbital agrees insure and help repair damaged Virginia-owned facility

Industrials Associated Press

An aerospace company that uses a state-owned launch pad at Wallops Island in Virginia will help pay for repairs to the facility from an October rocket explosion and will also insure the launch pad, company and state officials said Thursday.

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An unmanned commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff on Oct. 28.

After the explosion, state officials said they were stunned to realize that they were on the hook for all of the repair costs to the launch pad.

Orbital ATK, previously known as Orbital Sciences, has said preliminary investigation results point to a failure in one of the two main engines involved in the first stage of launch.

State officials spent months renegotiating a contract with Dulles-based Orbital ATK, one of two companies under contract by NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

"I was not happy with the original deal," Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at a news conference in Norfolk, where the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority is headquartered. "I did not like the idea that we launched a rocket and we had no protection for the state."

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The launch pad sits on an island that NASA uses to launch small research rockets, but the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on the installation. Virginia partnered with Orbital in 2008 to make $150 million in improvements to the spaceport so it could launch the larger rockets that are necessary for space station resupply missions.

The rocket explosion caused about $15 million in damage to the launch pad. On Thursday, Orbital, NASA and the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority said they would evenly split those repair costs. The launch pad should be fully repaired by the end of September, according to Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority Executive Director Dale Nash. The next space station resupply mission from Wallops Island is scheduled for March.

"We see this as moving forward in a way that everybody is protected and everybody wins," said Frank Culbertson, president of Orbital's space systems group.

Also on Thursday, NASA and Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that a 3,000-foot unmanned aircraft systems runway would be built at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the mainland of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Construction on the runways is set to begin this fall and will be completed in 2016.

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis