By Carol Vaughn —
Rocket Lab announced Monday it has selected Wallops Island as the location for its first launch site and manufacturing and operations complex for Neutron, the company’s new 8-ton reusable rocket.
Rocket Lab will launch the Neutron from a new Virginia Space-owned launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
The 250,000-square-foot manufacturing and operations complex will be built on a 28-acre site adjacent to Wallops Island. The property was purchased by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority in 2021.
Up to 250 engineers, technicians, and support staff may be based at the complex, according to a press release from Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
“Virginia’s industrial and innovation ecosystem and skilled workforce make the Commonwealth an optimal location for industry leaders like Rocket Lab,” Youngkin said, adding, “This important project reinforces the Eastern Shore’s legacy as an aerospace hub that offers the infrastructure for manufacturing and developing new technologies, and we look forward to a long partnership with Rocket Lab.”
Rocket Lab founder and chief executive officer Peter Beck during a press conference Monday said the entire launch vehicle will be manufactured and assembled at the complex on the Eastern Shore.
“We’ve got no time to lose here. We need to get Neutron flying. The stake in the ground is 2024, so we will be looking to break ground here extremely shortly,” Beck said.
Major General Ted Mercer, USAF (ret), chief executive officer and executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, said Virginia Space already has begun to prepare the 28 acres for construction, including doing required environmental work and clearing the land.
Beck called Wallops “an ideal location for Neutron,” noting its location on the eastern seaboard and the fact that Virginia is one of only four states with an FAA-licensed spaceport.
“We’ve enjoyed strong support,” he said.
NASA Wallops director David Pierce said the agency “is moving the United States into a new era of space exploration and through the deep commitment of the Commonwealth and Accomack County, we at Wallops are working strategically with Peter Beck and Rocket Lab to advance commercial space here on the Eastern Shore as well as in the United States.”
Wallops’ program management expertise and capabilities, along with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s, of providing “an ample range of availability” makes Wallops “the perfect fit” for Rocket Lab’s United States launch operations, Pierce said.
Pierce said Rocket Lab’s legacy at Wallops “will be to transform the space economy on the Eastern Shore, promote manufacturing and aerospace supply chain jobs.”
“This is the first time that rocket manufacturing capabilities will be delivered from the Eastern Shore,” Mercer said.
He noted Virginia Space already has a relationship with Rocket Lab related to the company’s previous choice to launch its Electron rocket from the spaceport.
“We hope to see the first launch for that later this year,” Mercer said.
“We are moving the world in a new direction in terms of space lift capability and what can be done from MARS,” he said.
A proposed $45 million in state funding, if approved by the General Assembly, will include $15 million for construction of the manufacturing and operations complex and $30 million for launch pad construction, according to Mercer.
Mercer noted the launch pad, while geared toward Neutron launches, also may be used for other launches.
According to Beck, the company’s cost to develop the Neutron is at least $200 million.
Federal, state, and local officials commented on Rocket Lab’s announcement this week.
“Wallops Island is a prime site for aerospace and aviation operations, and it is an honor to officially welcome Rocket Lab to the Eastern Shore of Virginia,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick, adding, “The Commonwealth has a strong aerospace and unmanned systems industry workforce, which is forecast to grow 8.5% over the next decade, and is well-positioned to provide the skilled talent that Rocket Lab will require for its Neutron launch site, manufacturing, and operations.”
“General Ted Mercer and his team at Virginia Space are the best in the business. This commitment from Rocket Lab is further testament to the quality of personnel and facilities the Commonwealth has developed at Wallops Island,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shep Miller. “We are excited to welcome Rocket Lab to Virginia, and look forward to future developments in the aerospace industry that will bring engineers, technicians, and families to the Eastern Shore.”
“Rocket Lab’s new manufacturing and launch facilities in Accomack County represent a tremendous win for the region and the Commonwealth, building on the Eastern Shore’s rich history in the aerospace sector,” said Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission Chair Senator Janet Howell. “We are pleased that the company recognized Virginia as the optimal location for this important project, and are proud the MEI Commission could play a role.”
“Rocket Lab is a significant addition to Virginia’s booming aerospace sector, and I am pleased the MEI Commission could collaborate with our state, regional, and local partners on this important project to get it across the finish line,” said Delegate Barry Knight, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
“The addition of 250 new jobs is transformational for the Eastern Shore of Virginia, which has emerged as a hub for aerospace and aviation operations.”
“On behalf of Accomack County, I want to thank Rocket Lab for selecting the county as the location to manufacture and launch the Neutron Rocket,” said Accomack Board of Supervisors Chairman Billy Joe Tarr. “This is a tremendous opportunity for all involved and a huge economic boost for Accomack County. We look forward to watching Electron and Neutron Rocket launches from Virginia Space’s MARS Facility on Wallops Island.”
“Rocket Lab’s launch and major manufacturing complex in Accomack County is an exciting opportunity that will bring 250 good-paying jobs to the Eastern Shore and advance Coastal Virginia’s position as a national leader in the space industry,” said Rep. Elaine G. Luria. “I am proud to support initiatives that create economic opportunities and expand the Commonwealth’s role in the space industry.”
“Rocket Lab’s official decision to establish its Neutron production and launch complex operation in Accomack County is a game changer for the Eastern Shore and the Commonwealth,” said Sen. Lynwood Lewis. “We are thrilled that Virginia was selected for this expansion, which will spur even more economic activity, and look forward to building a lasting partnership with this industry-leading company.”
“Rocket Lab’s selection of Virginia for this major project is a tremendous win, and I appreciate the hard work by all sides,” said Del. Robert Bloxom. “Rocket Lab is a welcome addition to Virginia Space and Accomack County, and I am confident the great workforce and infrastructure offered by NASA Wallops Flight Facility helped the company make its decision to expand on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.”
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Accomack County, the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space), and the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission to secure the project for Virginia.
Support for Rocket Lab’s job creation will be provided through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a workforce initiative created by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in collaboration with the Virginia Community College System and other higher education partners, with funding support from the governor’s administration and the Virginia General Assembly. Launched in 2019, the program accelerates new facility start-ups through direct delivery of recruitment and training services that are fully customized to a company’s unique products, processes, equipment, standards, and culture.
Program services are provided at no cost to qualified, new, and expanding companies as an incentive for job creation.
Rocket Lab is currently working with NASA to secure all necessary agreements and certifications for launches from Wallops Island.
Then-Gov. Ralph Northam announced in January that Accomack County was a finalist for the proposed manufacturing and operations facility.