Orbital and Virginia at Odds Over Bill for Antares Rocket Blast

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/ Source: Reuters

Work to repair a Virginia-owned launch pad damaged by an Orbital ATK rocket explosion is about to halt amid a debate about who should pick up the bill, according to officials in the dispute. The Oct. 28 accident at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), located on Wallops Island, Virginia, caused about $20 million in damages to the state-owned launch pad. Orbital was launching its third Antares rocket for NASA under a $1.9 billion contract to fly cargo to the International Space Station.

Orbital had insurance to cover its losses at Wallops, as well as damage to federal property and other entities as required by the Federal Aviation Administration. That insurance, however, does not cover the MARS pad owned by Virginia, according to spokespeople for the company and the FAA. To cover the repair costs, Virginia has turned to U.S. taxpayers, successfully lobbying for a $20 million addition to NASA’s 2015 budget as part of the Omnibus spending bill Congress passed and President Obama signed in December. Those funds, however, have not yet been released, said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel.

Nash confirmed reports that the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, which oversees the spaceport, will be out of money by the end of the month for repair work. "Cleanup and repairs have continued within the limits of the operating budget," MARS Executive Director Dale Nash said. "Major purchases and reconstruction tasks are … ready to proceed once the monies appropriated by Congress are released." Meanwhile, Orbital said it is working with NASA and Virginia to come to an agreement on funding launch pad repairs.