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Senate To Vote on $15M in Sandy Relief for NASA

An Antares rocket on the launch pad at Wallops just after Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Orbital Sciences photo

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote Jan. 28 on a House-passed disaster relief bill that would give NASA $15 million to repair facilities damaged by Hurricane Sandy in October.

The NASA funds are part of H.R. 152, a $51 billion emergency appropriations bill the House passed Jan. 15. Combined with a $10 billion flood insurance bill signed earlier this month, the House has now approved almost all of the $61 billion in storm-related disaster relief the Senate tried, but failed, to enact in the last session of Congress, which ended Jan. 2.

Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket rode out the storm on its launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Neither the pad nor the rocket were seriously damaged, according to the Dulles, Va., company.

Nevertheless, there remains some cleanup work to be done at Wallops, which is overseen by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located 255 kilometers away in Greenbelt, Md.

According to slides obtained by SpaceNews, Wallops personnel calculated a $26 million Sandy repair bill, which included rebuilding and bolstering the island’s seawall. Wallops officials briefed Goddard Director Christopher Scolese about their findings earlier this month, an industry source said.

"NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and Kennedy Space Center in Florida suffered significant beach erosion because of Hurricane Sandy," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said in a Jan. 25 email. "The administration's supplemental appropriations request addresses urgent repair requirements for NASA, including barrier island dunes and berms protecting launch facilities at Wallops and Kennedy. In addition, Sandy caused severe erosion of the coastal profile at Wallops that requires beach replenishment to provide continued protection."

Wallops has launched sounding rockets since the early days of the space program, but the coastal launch range is branching out. Pad 0-A, from which Orbital’s Antares rocket will launch, is one of the newest launch pads in the country, and the only pad at Wallops built to support liquid-fueled rocket launches.

If schedules hold, 2013 could be one of Wallops’ busiest year. The range is slated to support its first launches to the international space station and the Moon.

Orbital, which along with Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is one of NASA’s two commercial cargo contractors, is scheduled to conduct an Antares test launch in March followed in May or June by a demonstration flight of the Antares-launched Cygnus cargo tug to the international space station. Orbital’s first paid cargo run is tentatively planned for later this year.

Wallops is also scheduled to support its first launch for NASA’s Planetary Science Division, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. That mission will study the lunar atmosphere and surface and is penciled in for an August launch aboard a solid-fueled Minotaur 5 — a launcher made from surplus Peacekeeper missile stages and operated by Orbital Sciences.

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