AP Business Writer
RICHMOND, Va. - The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority has named a new executive director ahead of legislative changes aimed at boosting the group's efforts to promote commercial space activity, economic development and aerospace research at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
Dale K. Nash, CEO of Alaska Aerospace, will take the helm beginning July 31, the authority's board of directors said Wednesday. He will replace Billie M. Reed, who has served as executive director since the authority was established in 1995 and has since worked with others to launch Virginia's space industry to one that contributes $7.6 billion in annual direct economic output and supports more 28,000 jobs.
Nash has spent nearly 30 years in the aerospace industry and has been directly involved in more than 60 space shuttle flights throughout his career. He previously spent 14 years working on NASA's Space Shuttle/Human Space Flight programs as director of launch operations at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Nash's experience will be a "tremendous boost" as the authority works to become the top commercial space port in the U.S. and create much-needed economic development and jobs, said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton, whose office took oversight of the authority from the secretary of commerce and trade's office last year.
The MARS spaceport is one of only four that is licensed by the FAA to launch rockets into orbit, but there are more than a dozen states that are either active or interested in commercial space activity, half of which have state-owned space authorities. The Virginia governor's office wants the spaceport to help create highly-skilled, high-paying jobs as part of a plan to generate economic development. Maryland and Virginia partnered in 2004 to enhance those economic development efforts.
A report commissioned by the Virginia Department of Transportation last year said the authority needs to undergo a series of changes if it wants to become more competitive with spaceports in other states. Among other things, the study called for turning the spaceport on Wallops Island into a multi-use facility and restructuring its board to make it more conducive for recruiting qualified personnel, business continuity or marketing its services.
The Virginia facility that provides launch facilities for public- and private- sector customers is at a crossroads and either needs to decide to stay with its historical strengths or "to participate in the `new big commercial space' and incur the potential payoffs/associated risks of a new market," the report said.
Connaughton said that although it is evolving to small and medium lift orbital launches that will allow it to fulfill resupply needs for the International Space Station, the Eastern Shore launch site will concentrate on customers with small sub-orbital or scientific requirements rather than larger payload launches that traditionally take place in locations like Florida.
"We are going to focus all of our energies and resources on getting those customers who can take advantage of our location, our scheduling and our facilities," Connaughton said. "We are trying to maintain the foundation we have and use that to build additional jobs and economic development."
Following the report, Gov. Bob McDonnell introduced legislation to reform the authority's structure and provide additional funding. The legislation, which includes reducing the number of board members from 13 to nine and increasing annual dedicated funding to $9.5 million, takes effect July 1, when the term of all current board members will expire under the legislative changes. The governor's office has not yet released the new board appointments.
Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority and Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport: http://www.marsspaceport.com
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum .
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