Wallops Flight Facility

Wallops Flight Facility
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Nasa Wallops Flight Facility Insignia.svg
Wallops Flight Facility insignia
Agency overview
Preceding agencies
  • Pilotless Aircraft Research Station
  • Wallops Station
HeadquartersWallops Island, Virginia, 37°56′25″N 75°27′59″W / 37°56′25″N 75°27′59″W / 37.940194; -75.466389
Agency executive
  • William Wrobel, director
Parent agencyGoddard Space Flight Center
06-WFF Map and Vicinity.png
Wallops Flight Facility with its three separate parcels of property
NASA Wallops Flight Facility, 2010.

Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) (IATA: WAL, ICAO: KWAL, FAA LID: WAL), located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, United States, approximately 100 miles (160 km) north-northeast of Norfolk, is operated by the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, primarily as a rocket launch site to support science and exploration missions for NASA and other Federal agencies. WFF includes an extensively instrumented range to support launches of more than a dozen types of sounding rockets; [1] small expendable suborbital and orbital rockets; [2] high-altitude balloon flights carrying scientific instruments for atmospheric and astronomical research; and, using its Research Airport, flight tests of aeronautical research aircraft, including unmanned aerial vehicles.

There have been over 16,000 launches from the rocket testing range at Wallops since its founding in 1945 in the quest for information on the flight characteristics of airplanes, launch vehicles, and spacecraft, and to increase the knowledge of the Earth's upper atmosphere and the environment of outer space. The launch vehicles vary in size and power from the small Super Loki meteorological rockets to orbital-class vehicles.[3][4][5]

The Wallops Flight Facility also supports science missions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and occasionally for foreign governments and commercial organizations. Wallops also supports development tests and exercises involving United States Navy aircraft and ship-based electronics and weapon systems in the Virginia Capes operating area, near the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. In addition to its fixed-location instrumentation assets, the WFF range includes mobile radar, telemetry receivers, and command transmitters that can be transported by cargo planes to locations around the world, in order to establish a temporary range where no other instrumentation exists, to ensure safety, and to collect data in order to enable and support suborbital rocket launches from remote sites.

The WFF mobile range assets have been used to support rocket launches from locations in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and at sea. Workers at Wallops include approximately 1,000 full-time NASA civil service employees and the employees of contractors, about 30 U.S. Navy personnel, and about 100 employees of NOAA.


In 1945, NASA's predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), established a rocket launch site on Wallops Island under the direction of the Langley Research Center. This site was designated the Pilotless Aircraft Research Station and conducted high-speed aerodynamic research to supplement wind tunnel and laboratory investigations into the problems of flight. In 1958, Congress established NASA, which absorbed Langley Research Center and other NACA field centers and research facilities. At that time, the Pilotless Aircraft Research Station became a separate facility, Wallops Station, operating directly under NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In 1959, NASA acquired the former Naval Air Station Chincoteague, and engineering and administrative activities were moved to this location. In 1974, the Wallops Station was named Wallops Flight Center. The name was changed to Wallops Flight Facility in 1981, when it became part of Goddard Space Flight Center.

In the early years, research at Wallops concentrated on obtaining aerodynamic data at transonic and low supersonic speeds. Between 1959 and 1961, Project Mercury[6] capsules were tested at Wallops in support of NASA's manned space flight program - the Mercury program - before astronauts were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Some of these tests using the Little Joe booster rocket were designed to flight-qualify components of the spacecraft, including the escape and recovery systems and some of the life support systems. Two rhesus monkeys, Sam and Miss Sam, were sent aloft as pioneers for astronauts; both were recovered safely.

The first payload launched into orbit from Wallops Island was Explorer IX, atop a Scout rocket, on February 15, 1961.[7]

On September 6, 2013, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was launched from Wallops, atop a Minotaur V rocket. This was the first time that an American lunar mission had been launched from anywhere but Florida.[8]

Wallops Island is currently experiencing beach erosion of 10 to 22 feet (3 to 7 meters) a year, due in part to the current sea level rise; some access roads and parking lots have had to be rebuilt several times over the past five years. NASA has responded by continually fortifying the shoreline with sand.[9]

A permanent ground control station for NASA's RQ-4 Global Hawk drone is at Wallops Flight Facility.[10]