SAN FRANCISCO — NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility is experiencing a spike in activity as personnel prepare to conduct a series of research missions on sounding rockets, unmanned aerial vehicles and Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Minotaur 1 and Taurus 2 rockets. That ambitious schedule is keeping all Wallops workers busy but offers a particular challenge for LJT & Associates Inc., the firm that won a five-year contract in June and took over the management in August of the Wallops Research Range, the only launch range owned and operated by NASA.
Fortunately, LJT, which previously worked as a subcontractor to long-time Wallops range contractor Honeywell Technical Solutions Inc., was able to retain 100 percent of the people who applied to continue in their jobs, said Steven Kremer, deputy chief for the Wallops range and mission management office. “They inherited the contract at an extremely busy time,” he said. “We could not afford any degree of interruption of service or even degradation in service.”
That busy schedule continues. During the next six months, Wallops, located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, will provide launch services for six sounding rockets scheduled to fly during a two-month span this summer and the Defense Department’s Operationally Responsive Space Office’s ORS-1 surveillance satellite expected to travel into orbit in May on a Minotaur 1 rocket.
In addition, Wallops personnel are continuing to make the infrastructure improvements needed to support an initial risk reduction flight for the Taurus 2 rocket. The Taurus 2 flight is targeted for the third quarter of 2011, although no launch date has been set.
In preparation for that launch, Wallops workers are establishing the ground and launch infrastructure needed to support testing and subsequent launches of flights scheduled to begin in 2012 to ferry cargo to the international space station. That infrastructure includes the Horizontal Integration Facility where the Taurus 2 vehicle will be built and mated with the Cygnus capsule as well as the Taurus 2 launch pad. The Taurus 2 pad is a new launch pad being built on Wallops Island by the state of Virginia’s Commercial Space Flight Authority and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
Wallops has the ability to support testing of new rockets with unknown flight characteristics due to its coastal location and range personnel who have extensive experience conducting research flights, Kremer said. The restricted airspace over Wallops Island also makes the site ideal for companies eager to test small, short-range unmanned aerial vehicles, Kremer said.
In addition to supporting launches on site, Wallops, which is managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center of Greenbelt, Md., sends personnel and equipment to support research flights around the world. Wallops often provides support for sounding rockets launched in Alaska and Norway. Those northern locations help scientists study the aurora, the charged particles in Earth’s magnetic field that produce streams of light in polar regions, said Joseph Jimmerson, an LJT employee and manager of the Wallops Range Operations Contract management office.
Wallops’ mobile support capabilities enable teams to travel to remote locations to set up telemetry, antennas, radars and command and control equipment, Jimmerson said. For Taurus 2 flights, a team of Wallops employees plans to gather data on the mission from a site in Bermuda, which is located along the Taurus 2 flight path, he added.
Of the 1,000 civil servants and contractors working at Wallops, approximately 200 are employed by LJT, including 115 people who support the Wallops Research Range and 85 working under other contracts. The company’s success in winning the Wallops Research Range contract led to rapid expansion of the firm, which has grown to include 400 employees, LJT officials said.
“This is our biggest contract to date,” said Robert Conrad, LJT senior vice president and chief operating officer. It also is the first time LJT bid as a prime contractor for a large facility support program, although Conrad said he expects the firm to pursue other prime contracts.
LJT, a small, veteran-owned business, was established in 1994 in Montgomery, Ala. The company focused primarily on providing engineering services to military customers until 2002 when company officials moved the headquarters to Columbia, Md., and expanded the firm’s business to offer support to civilian government agencies.