WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam joined officials with the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority to announce the appointment of Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Roosevelt Mercer Jr. as the authority’s new CEO and executive, and share some updates on launch operations from NASA Wallops on the Eastern Shore.
“My vision for the space force is to capitalize on the outstanding critical infrastructure that’s already in place, and grow our launch manifest to continue to attract additional users for both the launchpad and unmanned airfield,” said Mercer.
The authority was created by the General Assembly in 1995 to promote commercial space activity, economic development and aerospace research.
Mercer has been serving as director of the Interagency Planning Office for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) at the Federal Aviation Administration since 2016. He’s also worked in the private sector after retiring from his 30-year-plus military career.
He is taking over after the previous executive director, Dale Nash, announced his retirement. There won’t be any downtime with the transition, with company Rocket Lab using Wallops as its first U.S.-based launch site.
“Between the Northrop Grumman launches and the Rocket Lab launches, we could easily be doing 20 – 25 launches a year with a couple of years. that is a significant cadence,” said Dale Nash, who is the outgoing executive director and CEO.
Picking up the pace of launches also means more economic development.
“This will benefit existing spaceport customers, attract new businesses and most importantly, create new jobs and stimulate economic investment,” Mercer said.
“This is an economic driver for the Eastern Shore, it’s an economic driver for Virginia and so the more we can develop space flight in Virginia, the more businesses, we can attract from around the world,” said Northam.
Northam says the Wallops Island cluster generates a total economic impact of $1.37 billion annually for the region and he hopes to see that grow.
He also hopes this increase in rocket launches increases student interest in STEM, and expands the flight experience to more children.