NASA Winter Launches Resupply Space Station and Local Economy

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The Antares rocket blasts from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in November 2019. Photo by Linda Cicoira

By Carol Vaughn —

Northrop Grumman’s 13th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station is set to launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Sunday, Feb. 9, at 5:39 p.m., according to a press release from NASA.

Among supplies the mission will deliver are items to support scientific research, including:
The Mobile SpaceLab, a tissue and cell culturing facility that launches and returns on resupply spacecraft to give researchers a quick turnaround platform for biology experiments.

Plant Habitat-02, in which radishes will be cultivated. The ability to grow nutritious crops in space is critical for NASA’s human exploration of Mars and the moon, according to the release.

The Spacecraft Fire Experiment-IV, which will use the Cygnus spacecraft after it leaves the space station to examine how fires spread in space in different conditions and materials. The research is important for developing flame-resistant materials and fire prevention measures for space.

Antares launches draw crowds of visitors to the Eastern Shore and provide a welcome addition to tourism in the off season, according to Evelyn Shotwell, Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce executive director.

Two hotels on Chincoteague were already fully booked for the upcoming launch by mid-January.

“The others will most likely be full by launch time,” Shotwell said.

Some Chincoteague lodgings offer special rates or incentives for launch dates, and hotels with good views of the launch site book up quickly.

Waterside Inn is among lodgings offering an incentive for guests staying there around the launch date— called “Rocket Rewards,” the motel offers a $30 credit on a future stay for guests who book a room for the launch.

“Northrop Grumman’s Antares program is a huge boon to the local economy of Chincoteague Island. Antares launches bring an influx of visitors as well as contractors working with the program,” Shotwell said, adding, “The shoulder season economic stimulus is greatly appreciated when visitation is typically slower.”

The upcoming mission is only the second cargo resupply mission to launch from Wallops in mid-winter — meaning the economic impact launches may have during Chincoteague’s slowest time of year for tourism is not yet clear.

The first winter launch, CRS Orb-1, was on Jan. 9, 2014. It was the third Antares rocket launched from Wallops.

Three past missions happened in November — in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Transient occupancy tax revenue — which is paid by guests at motels and other lodgings on Chincoteague — totaled $36,006 in November 2017; $45,615 in November 2018; and $41,167 in November 2019.

The figures were up compared to two previous Novembers when there was no Antares launch — November 2016, when the town collected $32,883, and November 2015, when the tax totaled $27,369.

More information about the resupply missions is at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/launch/northrop-grumman.html