THIRD QUARTER 2020
Aerospace, Aviation, and Unmanned Systems Transportation Innovation in Virginia
Halloween is a month-long celebration in Alexandriaâ€™s Old Town neighborhood. Visitors can take a ghost tour of the neighborhood led by a costumed, lantern-bearing guide.
Contents 10 America’s Unmanned Future
On land, air, and water, autonomous vehicles are poised to transform business
24 Opening the Final Frontier at the Wallops Flight Facility Virginia’s Eastern Shore is home to NASA’s only launch range and a key asset in the development of commercial space flight
30 Lowering the (Sonic) Boom at NASA’s Langley Research Center The Hampton facility portrayed in “Hidden Figures” helped send astronauts to the moon and continues to drive research
42 A Welcoming Atmosphere With Wing, Google pioneers drone delivery in Virginia
50 Autonomous Vehicle Companies Build Foundation of Trust The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and Virginia companies are pushing land-based unmanned technology forward
04 Facts & Figures 06 Virginia Wins 18 ‘We Go to Space to Improve Life on Earth’: A Conversation With Peter Beck 28 Select Aerospace, Aviation, and Unmanned Systems Companies in Virginia 36 Virginia’s Place in Space: A Conversation With Dale Nash 46 Virginia’s Unmanned Pioneers 56 Training Mission: Denbigh High School Aviation Academy 60 Virginia’s Sites With Airstrip Access 62 Aeroprobe Sets Companies Up for Speed 66 Regional Spotlight 70 Economic Development Partners in Virginia
Our cover illustration shows just a few of the many technologies developed, manufactured, and used in groundbreaking ways across Virginia, as well as some of the assets that enable that research and development. The placement of items in the illustration is not representative of their geographic locations across Virginia.
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A 1943 Hawker Hurricane flies over the coastline at Virginia Beach in 2019. The livery is that of Pilot Officer John Kenneth Haviland, who flew for the United Kingdomâ€™s Royal Air Force during World War II and became a professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at the University of Virginia.
Virginia Is Poised to Lead in Disruptive Aerospace, Aviation, and Unmanned Systems Sectors ADVANCES IN AEROSPACE, aviation,
and unmanned technologies are pushing business in new and exciting directions. Virginia companies are at the forefront of these shifts, designing, testing, building, and improving technologies and applications across these sectors. Business Facilities recently named Virginia the country’s top state for unmanned aerial systems, while Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore is one of just four locations in the country licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch into orbit, and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech is one of seven FAA-designated unmanned aerial system test sites. In this issue of Virginia Economic Review, we illustrate how Virginia companies and organizations are pushing the aerospace, aviation, and unmanned systems industries forward, including a look at how unmanned vehicles are poised to transform business; retrospectives on how NASA’s Virginia facilities at Langley and Wallops Island have shaped the history of space flight; and how partnerships at Virginia Tech have driven innovation in the air- and land-based unmanned industries.
Inside are discussions with two key thought leaders in the aerospace industry: Peter Beck, CEO, CTO, and founder of Rocket Lab, a New Zealand-based company now launching commercial space flights from Wallops Island, and Dale Nash, CEO and executive director of Virginia Space, the owner and operator of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops. We hope you enjoy this look at Virginia’s place on the cutting edge of aerospace, aviation, and unmanned systems. Best regards,
Stephen Moret President and CEO, Virginia Economic Development Partnership @StephenMoret
Scoring Tech Talent
Best Business Climate
Business Facilities, 2020
Business Facilities, 2020
Business Facilities, 2020
Labor, Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2019
Unmanned Aerial Systems
Workforce Development and Talent Attraction Business Facilities, 2020
Veterans in Civilian Labor Force U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019
FIVE OF THE TOP TEN Federal Contracting Company Headquarters Washington Technology, 2020
Department of Homeland Security S&E R&D Obligations
Department of Defense S&E R&D Obligations
Department of Transportation S&E R&D Obligations
Department of the Interior S&E R&D Obligations
National Science Foundation 2020 Science and Engineering State Profiles
Environmental Protection Agency S&E R&D Obligations
NASA S&E R&D Obligations
Aerospace Engineering Programs Center for World University Rankings, 2017
Engineering Bachelorâ€™s Degrees Awarded by School American Society for Engineering Education, 2019
Industrial/ Manufacturing/ Systems Engineering Program
Environmental/ Environmental Health Engineering Program
U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools, 2021
U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools, 2021
Civil Engineering Program U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools, 2021
Selected Virginia Wins Hampton Roads Acoustical Sheetmetal Company
ASGN Incorporated, a Fortune 1000 provider of IT and professional consulting services in technology, digital, creative, engineering, and life sciences fields, will invest a total of $12.4 million to grow its operations across Virginia, including relocating its corporate headquarters from Calabasas, Calif., to Henrico County in Greater Richmond. ASGN will invest $5 million in its new headquarters, creating 121 new jobs, and $7.4 million in other Virginia projects, creating 147 new jobs in the city of Virginia Beach, 74 new jobs in the city of Roanoke, and 358 new jobs in other locations. Virginia successfully competed with Massachusetts for the investments. ASGN subsidiary Apex Systems, LLC was founded in Richmond in 1995 and employs approximately 4,000 Virginia residents.
Jobs: 200 new jobs CapEx: $15.8M Locality: City of Virginia Beach
S23 Holdings, LLC
Jobs: 332 new jobs CapEx: $64.4M Locality: City of Newport News
I81-I77 Crossroads Metalworx Inc.
Jobs: 59 new jobs CapEx: $7.6M Locality: Grayson County
Lynchburg Region Bausch + Lomb
Jobs: 79 new jobs CapEx: $35M Locality: City of Lynchburg
New River Valley
With our two largest divisions based in the Commonwealth, it just made sense to have our headquarters in Henrico County. This move allows us to remain close to our key customers and brands. Virginiaâ€™s strong pipeline of information technology talent for both the commercial and government sectors make it an ideal place for us to have our headquarters and continue to grow. TED HANSON President and CEO, ASGN Incorporated
Jobs: 20 new jobs CapEx: $100K Locality: Montgomery County
Roanoke Region Fleetwood Homes
Jobs: 60 new jobs CapEx: $2.1M Locality: Franklin County
Shenandoah Valley The Hershey Company Jobs: 110 new jobs CapEx: $135M Locality: Augusta County
Southern Virginia Drake Extrusion, Inc. Jobs: 30 new jobs CapEx: $6.9M Locality: Henry County
FerraTex Solutions Jobs: 15 new jobs CapEx: $2M Locality: Henry County
On the Cover
Aerospace, aviation, and unmanned technologies are changing the way businesses operate and the services they provide. Our cover illustration shows just a few of the many technologies developed, manufactured, or used in groundbreaking ways across Virginia, as well as some of the assets that enable that research and development. The placement of items in the illustration is not representative of their geographic locations across Virginia. 1 Virginia Smart Roads
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
Delivery Robot Starship Technologies
Wallops Flight Facility NASA
7 690 AUV
8 Dragon AUV
14 Electron Rocket
9 U.S. Coast Guard Watcher
Spatial Integrated Systems
16 Passenger Air Vehicle
5 Antares Rocket
11 Hush 1
17 Resolute Eagle
American Aerospace Industries
AMERICAâ€™S UNMANNED FUTURE
On land, air, and water, autonomous vehicles are poised to transform business
Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company, Manassas
THE AGE OF AUTONOMOUS vehicles
has arrived. Autonomous shuttles, cars, farm equipment, mining equipment and trucks, on-highway trucks, and construction equipment will be here soon or are already commercially available. Unmanned air systems first developed for defense purposes are working in a multitude of civil and commercial applications, such as package delivery, infrastructure inspection,
agriculture, surveying, and search and rescue. Unmanned underwater vehicles are changing the way we explore oceans and conduct naval operations. Whether by land, air, or water, autonomous vehicles represent both opportunity and disruption for business. â€œIf business leaders are looking to leverage the unmanned systems
technologies of the future, they need to focus on three critical assessments: What will the technology realistically be capable of, when will it realistically be reliable enough for commercial use, and when will it realistically become profitable to leverage,â€? said Randy Yamada, distinguished scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton, a global consulting firm based in McLean in Northern Virginia.
A M E R I C A’ S U N M A N N E D F U T U R E
L E V E L S O F D R I V I N G A U T O M AT I O N Level 2: Driver-in-Control and Level 4: Vehicle-in-Control
Level 2 (today)
Assisted safety (e.g. Autonomous Emergency Braking)
Semi-automated steering or speed
Human & Vehicle Share Responsibility
Human is Responsible
Who is Driving
Vehicle is Responsible
Fully autonomous driving based on condition restrictions
Semi-automated steering or speed
Limited conditions dependent on system capabilities
Limited areas, conditions, and weather
All areas and conditions
Source: Society of Automotive Engineers
AUTONOMOUS CARS, SHUTTLES, AND TRUCKS The autonomous-vehicle market will reach $556 billion by 2025, according to Allied Market Research. The market opportunity has attracted startups like Waymo, Bolt, and Tesla, along with mobility service providers such as Uber and Lyft. Autonomous ride-sharing is expected to be an essential part of early deployment and growth — Micron Technology Inc.’s $3 billion investment announced in 2019 was driven in part by potential growth in the unmanned automotive sector. Threatened by a shift toward mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), traditional automakers are pursuing their own autonomous vehicles. Because autonomous vehicles can be driven continuously, the MaaS business model promises good profit margins based on reduced operating costs. Safety is a big driver for autonomous vehicles. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines six levels of driving automation, from Level 0 (no automation) to Level 5 (full vehicle autonomy). Level 3 vehicles require that a driver be available if something goes wrong. Level 4 vehicles can drive themselves, but may be limited to operating under certain conditions (such
as on-highway driving). By late 2020, most makers expect to have their first high-level (Level 3 or 4) autonomous vehicles in production, while Level 5 autonomy is still years away. Booz Allen Hamilton has been involved in developing a framework for establishing sample preliminary tests for automated driving systems that model ideal scenarios to evaluate a vehicle’s performance based on factors such as operation environment, vehicle maneuvers, and potential failures. “Autonomous driving is very complex,” said Dave Hofert, chief marketing officer and vice president of sales for Perrone Robotics, a software platform developer focused on last-mile shuttles and specific transit routes based in Crozet, near Charlottesville. “Machine-learning algorithms are difficult to train for every possible scenario.” With a perpetual shortage of longhaul drivers and an increase in online shopping, Michael Fleming, founder and CEO of Blacksburg-based Torc Robotics, a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks AG, believes there’s a strong business case for Level 4 autonomous trucks. While hours-of-service rules currently limit drivers’ time on the road without rest,
autonomous vehicles could potentially operate 24/7. Autonomous trucks might be deployed on the highway, while human drivers might take control in urban areas. According to Daimler, commercial self-driving trucks will be deployed within the next decade in the United States. “One of the biggest challenges is communicating the maturity of the technology, realistic timelines, and letting the public know that we are going to deploy in a safe and methodical fashion,” said Fleming. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Safety will drive the timeline.” (See page 50). Fleming believes the fastest path to commercialization is through an original equipment manufacturer (OEM). “By finding an OEM partner that owns the IP stack, you can reinvent the truck, mature the self-driving software stack, and combine the two to bring an end product to the customer,” says Fleming. “Without the OEM, I don’t see commercialization.” Fleming appreciates Virginia’s autonomous-friendly environment and tech-savvy workforce. “There’s a strong work ethic in Virginia, without a lot of ego. When you put those two together, it’s just a matter of time and a recipe for success.”
Perrone Robotics, Albemarle County
UNMANNED AIR SYSTEMS (UAS) Teal Group’s 2019 World Civil UAS Market Profile and Forecast predicts commercial use will surpass the consumer unmanned air systems market in 2023 and grow more than eightfold to reach $9.5 billion in 2028. Military use of unmanned aerial vehicles is also rising. Teal Group’s 2019–2020 military market study estimates unmanned aerial vehicle production worldwide will increase from $7.3 billion in 2019 to $10.2 billion in 2029. Mark Blanks, director of Virginia Tech’s Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP), has been at the forefront of advancing the use of drones for commercial and civil applications. MAAP was one of three sites that participated in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management Pilot Program, testing unmanned air systems for package delivery, emergency management, and infrastructure inspection. The team was led by Virginia’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority and the Center for Innovative Technology.
In addition to the FAA’s work with MAAP, the agency selected Mountain Empire Community College in Wise County as one of the first schools to participate in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Collegiate Training Institute. Participating colleges and universities will engage with the FAA, general industry, local governments, law enforcement, and other entities to address labor force needs. Drone delivery is expected to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry, as companies like UPS, Amazon, and FedEx look for more economic and efficient ways to provide last-mile delivery. Beginning in 2019, Wing, the dronedelivery unit of Alphabet, partnered with FedEx, Walgreens, and a local retailer to offer drone deliveries in Christiansburg (see page 42). State Farm was granted the first national waiver by the FAA to conduct drone operations over people and beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight for catastrophic assessments. MAAP provided operational expertise and the research experience to help navigate the approval process and collect supporting data.
Richmond-based Dominion Energy worked with MAAP to gain FAA approval for expanded beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone flights to enable more efficient inspection of linear infrastructure. Blanks attributes MAAP’s success to reputation, relationships, and capabilities. “We have a good relationship with FAA and a good reputation as an objective and knowledgeable third party,” he said. Virginia boasts a UAS test site, as well as two NASA facilities focusing on UAS research, Langley Research Center and Wallops Flight Facility. Partnering with faculty at Virginia Tech, MAAP has been able to tackle the most challenging technical aspects of UAS integration. Flying beyond line of sight is among the key obstacles to adoption of UAS in many industries. Doing it safely requires that drones detect and avoid other aircraft. Boeing’s experience with unmanned systems is rooted in work for the U.S. Department of Defense on the MQ25, ScanEagle, and RQ-21 Blackjack. According to Per Beith, president and
A M E R I C A’ S U N M A N N E D F U T U R E
CEO of Manassas-based Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing company, the same safety, efficiency, and strategy-driven implementation employed in defense projects can be applied to commercial UAS systems. Boeing is focused on next-generation airspace management, global airspace integration, modeling smart cities, working with regulators, and exploring new market opportunities that will make the future mobility ecosystem a reality. Some of the prototype programs involve passenger and cargo air vehicles, commercial small autonomous systems, and passenger-carrying hypersonic aircraft. “Even more important than the development of tomorrow’s aircraft is the need to create a new kind of global airspace that’s safe, reliable, and robust enough to accommodate a diverse range of vehicles — both piloted and autonomous,” said Beith. The FAA recently proposed rules for flying over people and remote identification of UAS operated in the U.S. airspace. Remote ID is the ability of an unmanned aircraft in flight to provide identification and location information to people on the ground and to other airspace users. When these rules are finalized, Blanks believes the FAA will be more receptive to flying beyond visual line of sight. Boeing also expects a phased-in adoption of future air vehicles when all of the associated hard problems — autonomy, electric and hybrid electric propulsion, airspace integration, and regulation — are solved. “There’s probably more real-world commercial-level activity happening here in Virginia than anywhere in the country,” said Blanks. “It’s a testament to the positive business climate, technical capability, and support from multiple administrations.”
D R O N E PA C K A G E D E L I V E R Y
Global Market Value
$2.1B $27.4B 2023
Source: MarketsandMarkets, Drone Package Delivery Market by Solution, 2019
Wing offers drone deliveries in Christiansburg from FedEx, Walgreens, and local retailer Sugar 15 Magnolia.
AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE MARKET
Global Market Value
Torc Robotics, Blacksburg
Source: Allied Market Research by Level of Automation, 2019
REIMAGINING THE FUTURE Autonomous technology enables us to reimagine transportation and how we work. “With increasing urbanization, a growing global population, aging infrastructure and the explosion of e-commerce, there is a need for new, safe, sustainable, and accessible modes of transportation,” said Beith. “Now is the right time to solve for the transportation challenges of the future.” While developers are eager to get their solutions to market and businesses may be excited to deploy them, Booz Allen Hamilton’s Yamada urges caution: “Adopt unmanned technologies at a pace that is natural, safe, and profitable.” Virginia is positioned to lead the way in ensuring that those technologies are rolled out in a way that makes sense for developers, businesses, and citizens alike.
There’s probably more real-world commerciallevel activity happening here in Virginia than anywhere in the country. It’s a testament to the positive business climate, technical capability, and support from multiple administrations. MARK BLANKS Director, Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership
Defense and oil and gas drive growth in autonomous underwater vehicles While the majority of the unmanned underwater vehicles market is driven by defense applications, commercial applications are on the rise, particularly in deep-water oil and gas operations. Autonomous underwater vehicles can increase operational safety, lessen the environmental impact of inspection operations, and reduce the number of personnel needed at sea.
A U T O M O M O U S U N D E R WAT E R V E H I C L E S
Global Market Value
Source: MarketsandMarkets Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Market by Type, 2017
‘ We Go to Space to Improve Life on Earth’
A Conversation With Peter Beck Peter Beck is CEO, CTO, and founder of Rocket Lab, a private space company with commercial launch sites in New Zealand and Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. VEDP Executive Vice President Jason El Koubi spoke with Beck about Rocket Lab’s evolution, its decision to locate in Virginia, and the future of commercial space flight.
Rocket Lab, Accomack County
A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H P E T E R B E C K
Jason El Koubi: What are the origins of Rocket Lab and how has the company evolved over its existence? Peter Beck: I originally started the company in New Zealand back in 2007, and we became a U.S. company and headquartered up in Long Beach, Calif., in 2013. But we ended up building a launch site down in New Zealand to enable the frequency and the launch angles that we needed. We’re the only small launch vehicle in the world today that’s currently flying, and one of only two private companies to have ever delivered satellites to orbit. We’ve delivered over 50 satellites for customers, the likes of NASA, the Air Force, DARPA, and our own, as well as lots of commercial customers and even some universities and in-early-stage companies. So it’s been a really, really exciting time and a pretty wild ride in the last few years. El Koubi: We feel the same way, and your amazing progress comes at a time of renewed public interest in space here in the U.S. Give us a sense of how Rocket Labs fits into the overall industry. What’s your company’s niche and operating model? Beck: We’ve built a small launch vehicle for delivering small satellites. Our satellites have shrunk drastically in size over the last decade, and it doesn’t sit well when you have a very, very large rocket and a very small satellite. So it’s really about providing a dedicated ride for small spacecraft to get onto orbit in a timely manner, and it’s particularly critical for government customers who need absolute assured access to space in a rapid way. The thing that’s really unique about the Virginia launch site at Wallops is that the whole launch site, including all the operations, has been specifically designed for rapid on-call-up launch demand. It’s a unique facility and it brings to the country a whole new national capability that doesn’t exist.
El Koubi: Can you talk a little bit about specifically what convinced you to locate Rocket Lab’s U.S. facility at Wallops Island? Beck: We actually ran a national competing process and we looked at all the potential launch sites around the U.S. Really, the super-strong support from the Commonwealth of Virginia, led by [Secretary of Transportation] Shannon Valentine, was one of the key elements. Also, the incredible welcome that we got there, and the capabilities of the team there at Virginia Space led by Dale Nash. We had to build a launch site in under a year and, in order to do that, you require massive team effort. It was just a huge team effort by a lot of people, and both the state of Virginia and the Virginia Space Authority had a strong record of building and maintaining launch pads really, really quickly. El Koubi: Can you talk a little bit more about the relationship with Virginia Space? How does that partnership work? Beck: It’s a very, very close partnership. Virginia Space has built a real capability with technicians and experienced engineers in developing and operating our launch pads, although most people see a launch pad and think that’s all there is to a rocket facility. There’s another facility that we’ve built just off the island, which is a vehicle processing facility with multiple cleanrooms, and it’s highly secure. There’s just a tremendous wealth of experience, knowledge, and commitment from that team. Rocket Lab is very aggressive in its timelines and the way that we execute technologies, and everybody just really got in behind us to support us to get this capability stood up in record time. El Koubi: One of the things that Rocket Lab is focused on is the development of a reusable rocket system. Can you talk about that? How close are you to being able to recover rockets after launch?
Beck: We successfully reentered two rockets in a row. We haven’t recovered them, but reentered them into the Earth’s atmosphere, and that’s actually the hardest thing to do. It’s a very complex problem, but we’re making fantastic progress. El Koubi: Can you tell us about Rocket Lab’s pathfinding mission, supporting NASA’s mission to the moon, to be launched from Virginia? Beck: Most people think of Rocket Lab as a launch company, and certainly that’s what we’re well known for, but we also build satellites. We recently won a contract to support NASA to deliver one of the first communication relays to assist them in orbit. We begin launching from the pad in Virginia, and then we spend about eight days continually raising the orbit on a very, very complex trajectory. Then finally, we do one big burn and send ourselves on the way to the moon. We’re really, really excited about that mission and being able to build some of the very first elements of the lunar gateway. El Koubi: You have so many incredible projects underway. What are some of the other technological advances developed at Rocket Lab that you’re most proud of and, similarly, can you talk a bit about the future? What are you most excited about in the coming year? Beck: Rocket Lab is highly vertically integrated. So we produce about 95% of the entire launch vehicle in-house. With that comes a lot of innovation. The one thing that everybody will see when they stand and look at Electron launch is that it’s black in color, because it’s made completely of carbon fiber from tip to tail. So there are a lot of unique technologies in there. We 3D print our rocket engines. But the thing that excites me most about the future is when you combine a launch vehicle like Electron with the satellite platform that was also built, called Photon, it really lowers the barrier to entry to space.
A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H P E T E R B E C K
A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H P E T E R B E C K
Rocket Lab produces and launches its carbon-fiber Electron rocket at its Wallops Island facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
El Koubi: As we think about the aerospace industry overall, what do you see as the next big advances on the horizon? Beck: The thing that’s really exciting about the space industry, and the thing that gets me up every morning, is the power it has to affect so many lives down here on Earth. The missions that garner a lot of attention are obviously the manned missions — for good reason. I’m always in the front row cheering those on. But what a lot of people don’t realize is how much they are reliant on space infrastructure that’s in orbit currently, and GPS is a great example. Everybody understands GPS, but there’s no Uber Eats without GPS. No Ubers without GPS, let alone
directions, but communications, weather, all of this stuff is coming from space, but it’s all hidden infrastructure. It’s not like you can walk outside and see some power lines and go, “Yep. That’s where my power’s coming from.” You go outside and there’ll be a little gray dish pointing to the sky, and it’s like, “Well, that’s where my TV comes from,” but it’s less obvious where all of these other services from space that are integrated into our everyday lives are coming from. The thing that I’m most excited about is when you democratize that market and open it up for commercial enterprise to grow and innovate, then a whole lot of new services and new opportunities start
to arrive. The slogan we have here at Rocket Lab is: “We go to space to improve life on Earth.” That’s really what we live by, trying to build infrastructure on orbit that has the ability to affect millions, and tens of millions, if not billions of people around the world every day. El Koubi: You’ve talked a lot about different parts of the business, but I know you’re also very excited about the spacecraft division of Rocket Lab. Can you talk a bit about what’s going on there? Beck: This is a relatively new division for us, and we made some acquisitions early in the year, which really put a backbone to the division. So, much like the launch vehicle division, the satellite division also
A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H P E T E R B E C K
is highly vertically integrated, so we built just about everything in-house there. The kind of spacecraft that we’re building are really exciting and unique. We’re building spacecraft to go back to the moon, and we’re really excited about that. We also are able to provide spacecraft systems into other people’s platforms as well. So although people think of Rocket Lab as a beautiful black rocket, there are lots of components with the Rocket Lab logo on it sitting in other people’s spacecraft all around the world. El Koubi: You may know that one of our major focus areas at VEDP is workforce development, and how education prepares students for future careers. You’ve got a unique perspective on that, I think. I understand you did not attend university and basically gained your knowledge and experience on the job. Is your experience instructive regarding potential alternative pathways to more knowledge-intensive fields? In other words, what can schools and companies and organizations do to make sure that the next Peter Beck doesn’t fall through the cracks? Beck: I reflect upon this quite a lot, actually. There is a drive, certainly, for highly academic qualifications. In certain fields, that’s absolutely required, and that was always part of my plan. I just ran out of time. So my pathway is probably a little bit more unusual than most. However, I think there are certainly multiple pathways here. When we look to employ somebody, certainly we’ll look at their academic qualifications, but really, at some point it all starts to look the same. The kind of people we look for are doers — so somebody who may have gone to university or a trade school — but outside that, they are building things. If they’re an engineer, then we love to see them actually building things on the weekends and nights, and building their own knowledge and experience. Motivation can make up a lot of knowledge. If you’re motivated, you gain the knowledge quickly.
Everybody understands GPS, but there’s no Uber Eats without GPS. No Ubers without GPS. PETER BECK CEO, CTO, and Founder, Rocket Lab
Schooling is important, but the kind of person that you are is, I would say, of equal importance to what your grades are. It’s really important that we encourage our kids and our students to, obviously, get good grades, but to think about the other things they can be doing to build their knowledge and experience. One of the things I find is that everybody just needs to think a little bit bigger, a little bit bigger aspirations, and push to try and achieve them. El Koubi: That is inspiring, Peter. I wanted to also ask you just a little bit about your experience in Virginia. You spend a lot of time in New Zealand, but you’ve got a significant interest in Virginia because of the launch facility at Wallops. Have you spent much time in Virginia? What have you enjoyed in your time here? Beck: I wish I’d spent more, to be honest with you, because I’m always racing around the world. I think my postcode, you could argue, last year was somewhere over the Pacific rather than any particular piece of landmass, but I really love it over there [in Virginia]. Fantastic ice cream, by the way. I’m really looking forward to this pandemic to be a little bit more under control or gone, because my plan
was to take my wife and children over there, and we were going to spend a decent amount of time, especially in the New Zealand winter. It’s just such a wonderful area with wonderful, friendly people, and we thoroughly enjoy our time there. The one thing that I have to say that really made me proud is that, riding up to the security gate and the security guard has got the Rocket Lab Electron cap on and giving us a big thumbs’ up as we go through. So, we’ve just enjoyed so much support from the whole team there. Everybody is rooting for us and wants us to succeed, and we’re really working hard to make sure that we can bring lots and lots of launches to this state. El Koubi: Peter, we are thrilled that Rocket Lab is in Virginia and it has been a delight to talk with you. I look forward to seeing you and your family in Virginia soon. Beck: It’s my absolute pleasure.
For the full interview, visit www.vedp.org/Podcasts
Opening the Final Frontier at the Wallops Flight Facility On a chilly, cloud-streaked day in February, a 133-foottall rocket sat on a launchpad, venting steam from its liquid oxygen tanks. With the Atlantic Ocean tumbling against a beach just a stone’s throw away, a flight director counted down to liftoff. AT “IGNITION,” the rocket’s two first-
stage engines erupted fire. A second later, the pad’s hold-down clamps released the rocket, and it thundered into the sky. Onboard were 7,500 pounds of equipment and supplies bound for the International Space Station. It was the 13th cargo mission to the orbiting outpost to lift off from this spaceport on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. No, this isn’t Cape Canaveral on the Florida coast. It’s a lesser-known, but no less critical, launch site up the coast on Virginia’s Eastern Shore: the Wallops Flight Facility. It’s NASA’s only launch range, which is the authority responsible for flight safety and approval for launches (Cape Canaveral’s launch range falls under the 45th Space Wing of the Space Force), and it’s a significant economic engine for the region. It’s also growing.
director of the Wallops Flight Facility. The facility serves not just NASA, but tenants that include the Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), a commercial space launch facility, has made its home at Wallops since its establishment in 1995. “The space race today isn’t between countries,” Pierce says of the significance of the commercial nature of the spaceport. “It’s between commercial entities vying for commercialized space.”
A UNIQUE NATIONAL ASSET
Altogether, Wallops directly employs 1,940 people. An estimated additional 4,152 people work in the surrounding area as a direct result of activity at Wallops. The community is expanding as MARS adds more commercial space flights, including an upcoming mission to the moon.
“We think our facility is a unique national asset — for NASA and the nation,” says NASA’s Dave Pierce,
It all started with suborbital sounding rocket launches.
25County NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Accomack
NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Accomack County
RESEARCH AND ROCKETS In 1945, NASA’s predecessor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), established the Pilotless Aircraft Research Station on Wallops Island. There, it began launching rockets with scale models of aircraft on top. In the absence of modern wind tunnels and computational fluid dynamics, the rockets let engineers study the supersonic aerodynamics and heating characteristics of their designs. After NACA became NASA in 1958, suborbital launches out of Wallops supported the fledgling space program. A couple of rhesus monkeys, Sam and Miss Sam, flew rockets from Wallops in 1959 and 1960, respectively, to test systems for the Mercury spacecraft and pave the way for America’s first astronauts. Those astronauts reached space from Cape Canaveral in 1961. That same year, the first orbital launch from Wallops carried the Explorer 9 satellite aloft on a mission to study the upper atmosphere.
The Wallops Flight Facility got its present name after NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., took it over in 1981. Suborbital rockets still take flight from Wallops on research and technology development flights. Wallops also manages high-altitude balloon flights. The NASA Scientific Balloon Program Office, based at Wallops, plumbs the depths of the cosmos with cosmic ray detectors and other instruments launched from sites around the world. More recently, commercial rockets have ushered in the latest era of space flight from Wallops.
THE NEXT BUSINESS FRONTIER In 2010, President Barack Obama committed the nation to using commercial services to reach low earth orbit and the International Space Station. The following year, NASA retired the Space Shuttle. The year after that, SpaceX, rocketing out of Cape Canaveral, delivered the first commercial cargo vehicle to the
International Space station. And, in 2013, the first cargo mission to Space Station lifted off from Wallops, flown by Dullesbased Orbital Sciences Corporation with an Antares rocket carrying a robotic Cygnus supply vessel. Orbital has since been acquired by Northrop Grumman, but Antares rockets, like the one that lifted off in February, still launch from Pad 0A at Wallops. Rockets like the one flown by MARS’s newest tenant, Rocket Lab.
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL In March, next to Pad 0A on Launch Complex 2, a 55-foot-tall Electron rocket fired up its nine 3D-printed first-stage engines. The engines roared, putting out 34,000 pounds of thrust, but pad clamps held the rocket firmly in place for the duration of the burn. The test was the culmination of a series of checkouts of the rocket and its new pad, and a dress rehearsal for the upcoming launch of an Air Force satellite. Rocket Lab began construction of its pad
X X XAccomack X X X X X X X XCounty NASA Wallops Flight Facility,
at Wallops, the company’s second launch pad, in February of 2019. Construction crews completed it that December. By then, the Electron had proven itself over the course of 10 successful missions to orbit from its launch site in New Zealand. The rocket now filled a critical role in the space flight: providing regular, dedicated launches for satellites under 500 pounds. “Small satellites present significant opportunities to commercial and government operators alike,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck explained. Among other benefits, Beck said, “Small satellites also represent enormous potential for communications, with constellations poised to provide internet access to remote corners of the globe.” Until Rocket Lab opened for business in 2017, small satellites had to share rides with other spacecraft on big rockets, limiting opportunities for launch and the orbits they could reach. With a smaller, more affordable launcher, “Rocket Lab has put small satellite operators in control for the first time,” Beck said.
TICKET TO THE MOON
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Moving forward, Rocket Lab plans to launch, on average, about a rocket a month between its two sites at Wallops and in New Zealand. One of those future launches will be a NASA lunar mission. The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) satellite will orbit the moon in support of future human flight. It’s scheduled for launch from Wallops early in 2021.
Nash is justifiably proud of MARS’s role in opening the final frontier. And, he says, there’s more to come. “We want to bring in the small- to medium-class launch vehicles with the capability to be flexible and turn things around quickly,” Nash says. “There are a lot of new launch providers out there, and we are in discussions with several.”
CAPSTONE will be only the second lunar mission to lift off from Wallops. The first, launched on an Orbital Sciences Minotaur V rocket in 2013, was the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission. “That put an 800-pound satellite from right out of Virginia circling the moon,” said Dale Nash, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, which owns and operates MARS. “And the next mission to the moon will come out of Wallops.” (See page 40 for more from Nash.)
For his part, Pierce sees the cooperation between government and private entities as the key to the success of the Wallops Flight Facility. “We like to say that we’re one of the best examples of a publicpublic-private partnership,” he says. “NASA, of course, is public. MARS is public — it’s part of the state of Virginia. And these private companies form this public-public-private partnership.” All of which will keep Virginians looking up far into the future. Way up.
Select Aerospace, Aviation, and Unmanned Systems Companies in Virginia Illustrative Examples Aerospace/Aviation Equipment
65 1 General Dynamics Ordnance and 68 Tactical Systems 75 2 Marion Mold & Tool Inc. 79 3 Moog Components Group* 82 4 Capewell Aerial Systems 85 5 Electroplate-Rite Corp. 86 6 Motion Control Systems Inc. 87 7 Kollmorgen Corporation 89 9 Aeroprobe Corp. 90 10 VPT, Inc. 92 13 Prime Photonics LC 97 15 Butler Parachute Manufacturing 98 Harris Corporation 17 275 99 18 Arconic* 471 102 19 Sky Dynamics Corp. 103 20 Redco Machine Inc. 104 21 AMG Inc. 106 22 Combustion Technologies Inc. 107 23 The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. 108 25 Entwistle Company Inc. 112 26 Unison Ltd. 117 27 Dynovis, Inc. 119 28 Draftco - Precision Fabricators 29 PPI Time Zero Inc. 120 31 Northrop Grumman* 124 32 Virginia Diodes, Inc. 127 33 GE Automation & Controls 34 Lilbern Design 64 35 Dynamic Aviation Group Inc. 36 UMA Inc. 37 Coleman Microwave Co. 38 Preston Aerospace Inc. 39 Precision Machine Works Inc. 40 Fyne-Wire Specialties 41 Euro Composites Corp. 42 Logis-Tech, Inc. 43 Aerojet Rocketdyne* 44 Kform 45 Avionics Systems 48 Safran Cabin Sterling, Inc. 50 Dowty Propellers Americas 61 Communications-Applied Technology
51 Collins Aerospace Simulation & Training Solutions 52 Science Application International Corporation (SAIC) 53 DigitalGlobe Maxar Technologies 57 Leidos Holdings Inc. 63 Lockheed Martin* 69 The Aerospace Corporation 70 BAE Systems LLC 71 The Boeing Co. 72 Northrop Grumman 7777 ENSCO Inc. 83 Tekla Research, Inc. 84 VSE Corporation 95 UAV Pro 96 Textron Systems 101 Analytical Services & Materials, Inc. 105 Jacobs Technology Inc. 110 Science and Technology Corporation 111 Science Systems & Applications, Inc. 79 125 DroneUP, LLC 126 Zel Technologies, LLC
X-Com Systems, LLC Mu-Del Electronics LLC Aurora Flight Sciences (Boeing) Alexandria Metal Finishers Zentech Fredericksburg LLC Pryor Marking Sonic Tools LP Century Fasteners Corporation United Equipment Corporation Anderson Machine Manufacturing Wilkerson Company Inc. Fulcrum Concepts LLC Ocean Products Research, Inc. Advex Corporation AERY Aviation Advanced Technologies Inc. TE Connectivity Calspan Systems Corp. L3 Flight International Modern Machine & Tool Co Inc. Eagle Aviation Technologies Epsilon Systems Solutions, Inc. Service Disabled Contracting Group, Inc. JHH Mazzella Company, Inc. Oceana Sensor Technologies Luminary Air Group
B e c k l ey ey
* Multiple locations in category
26 Johnson City
13 11 12 10
W inston-Sale m Kn ox v i l l e
Other Aerospace/Aviation Summit Helicopters International Launch Services Airbus Group, Inc.* Rolls-Royce North America Inc. SES Government Solutions iDirect, Inc. IAI North America, Inc. General Dynamics Terma North America, Inc. Zenith Aviation Inc. Shelby Performance Aviation Aerodyne Corporation Northrop Grumman Rocket Lab
14 47 49 56 58 62 67 73 78 81 115 116 128 129
16 24 88 91 100
81 83 82
33 16 30
102 101 106 105 104 103 111 114 110 107 108 109 113 18 126 112 100
P etersburg Pe
86 87 88
Techsburg, Inc. Mid Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) Torc Robotics Perrone Robotics Raytheon L3 Unmanned Systems Dedrone Science Application International Corporation (SAIC) MITRE Corp Engility ANRA Technologies The Boeing Co. AeroVironment Modern Technology Solutions, Inc, UAVPro Textron Systems Huntington Ingalls Industries CACI Advanced Aircraft Company Booz Allen Hamilton Hush Aerospace LLC PrecisionHawk DroneUp, LLC Sentinel Robotic Solutions, LLC
Fr e d e r i c k s b u r g
51 52 53 47 54 55 56 57 44 49 58 59 60 61 Wa shington, 63 D.C. 64 65 66 67 62 A l e x a n d r i a 69 70 68 72 73 43 74 63 71 42 77 78 75 76 79 80 41
60 64 66 74 76 80 93 94 109 113 114 118 121 122 123 130
8 11 12 30 46 54 55 59
Signature Flight Support* GSO Aviation, Inc. Heart of Virginia Aviation Million Air Rick Aviation Inc.
N o r f o lk
119 125 124 120 16 122 123 121 Virginia
South Bosto n
B e a ch
Aerospace, Aviation, and Unmanned Systems Companies 85
Aerospace/Aviation Equipment Aerospace/Aviation Technology Other Aerospace/Aviation
Fixed-base Operator (FBO)
Unmanned Systems Raleigh
Source: D&B, VEDP analysis of company websites
A NASA lunar landing vehicle at NASAâ€™s Langley 30Center in 1963. Research
Lowering the (Sonic) Boom at NASA’s Langley Research Center ON A BRIGHT, EARLY MORNING in the Mojave
Desert in November 2021, test pilot Nils Larson will climb into a 97-foot-long airplane resembling something out of “Star Wars.” The nose, from tip to the single-seat cockpit, will be as long as the rest of the aircraft. So long, in fact, that Larson will have to rely on a video display in front of him to see where he’s going. Soon after takeoff and climb-out, the plane will go supersonic. And, if all goes well, instead of the earth-shaking sonic boom of conventional supersonic aircraft, only a gentle thump will mark its passage. This is the NASA X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft. Some 10 years in the making, the pieces of the plane are coming together at a Lockheed Martin hangar in Palmdale, Calif., at the company’s famous Skunkworks as part of the Low-Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD)
project. It may well represent the future of air travel, one in which quiet, overland supersonic flights cut cross-country trips in half. And, while Skunkworks and the Armstrong Flight Research Center, where the X-59 will take off, may get the spotlight, the X-59 couldn’t see the light of day without the NASA facility at which the project started: the Langley Research Center. Tucked away in Hampton next to Langley Air Force Base, Langley Research Center is NASA’s birthplace. “It’s the nation’s first aeronautical center,” says David Young, Langley’s deputy director, who began working as a researcher at Langley in 1980. “Everything we do grew out of that.” It’s also a major driver of science, technology, engineering, and math education for Virginia and surrounding states, helping the next generation of engineers and educators build the future.
Mary Winston Jackson became NASA’s first Black female engineer in 1958.
AMERICA’S ORIGINAL AERONAUTICAL CENTER In 1915, responding to signs that the birthplace of powered flight, the United States, had fallen behind Europe, Congress formed the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) with $5,000 in funding (about $125,000 in today’s dollars). For five years, the organization languished without any laboratories or airfields. It broke ground on what would become known as the Langley Research Center in Hampton in 1917, but World War I interrupted construction. It wasn’t until 1920 that engineers built the center’s first wind tunnel. And then they wasted no time catching up.
In 1922, Newport News Shipping and Drydock Company built the world’s first pressurized wind tunnel, the Variable Density Tunnel (VDT), for Langley. The steel railroad-size, capsule-shaped machine saw service for more than two decades, during which it made airfoil design studies still referenced by aeronautical engineers today. The retired VDT, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985, now occupies a place of honor on display at Langley. Thanks in part to the VDT and the other wind tunnels at Langley, “We’ve been a key part of development of every aircraft in this nation, whether it’s commercial or for the military,” Young says. “Every
single aircraft you’ve ever flown on, every single aircraft you’ve ever seen fly over your head, was developed with Langley technology in it. Every breakthrough we’ve had in terms of aircraft design came through our wind tunnels.” And the work doesn’t end with aircraft. “Because we have that deep understanding of aerodynamics and aerothermal, we’ve used that for planetary missions,” Young says. “We’ve used that for science and remote sensing. We learned how to measure the atmosphere, so we knew what we were flying through, and use that same technology to measure the Earth today.”
LO W E R I N G T H E ( S O N I C) B O O M AT N A S A’ S L A N G L E Y R E S E A R C H C E N T E R
Katherine Johnson, of “Hidden Figures” fame, at work at Langley in 1980.
2004 NASA X-43A, developed at Langley, sets speed record by flying at approximately Mach 9.6
1976 Viking Lander 1, managed at Langley, successfully reaches surface of Mars
1968 Langley researchers develop standards for grooving of aircraft runways to reduce hydroplaning that later became international standard
1965 NASA Lunar Landing Research Facility completed at Langley
1958 Space Task Group, managers of U.S. human space flight program, established at Langley
In 1957, Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik, setting off a panic in the West. Once again, the U.S. had been left behind, and it raced to catch up. NACA became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, and the space race was on, with Langley at the center of the action.
REACHING FOR THE STARS NASA introduced America’s seven Mercury astronauts in Washington in 1959. They trained at Langley. Also there, human “computers” did the math required to rocket them into space. Most of them were women, and among them were African-Americans Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Winston Jackson, immortalized in the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly and the 2016 movie of the same name. In June, NASA announced that it would name its Washington headquarters after Jackson. After President John F. Kennedy tasked the nation with landing astronauts on the
moon by the end of the 1960s, Langley developed the know-how that made it possible. Langley-based engineers John Houbolt and Bill Michael developed the so-called lunar-orbit rendezvous architecture that made the landings of Project Apollo possible with a single rocket launch each. Today, wind tunnel testing and other crucial work for the Space Launch System and Orion capsule for Artemis, NASA’s next human-crewed deep space program, takes place at Langley. Langley-based research also plays a crucial role in atmospheric studies. For example, data on the hole in the ozone layer captured by Langley-managed satellites led to bans on ozone-depleting chemicals. With an eye on the future, Langley has partnered with the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, five colleges and universities, the Center for Innovative Technology, and other Virginia institutions to provide educational and research opportunities in aerospace.
1950 Slotted-throat wind tunnel installed in Langley’s Transonic Tunnel and 8-Foot High-Speed Tunnel
1931 Langley Full Scale Tunnel begins operations
1958 Project Mercury, first U.S. human space flight program, launched; astronauts trained at Langley
1958 NACA replaced by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Langley renamed to NASA Langley Research Center
1947 Langley’s John Stack, along with Lawrence Bell and Chuck Yeager, wins Robert J. Collier Trophy for research into supersonic flight
1929 Langley receives first Robert J. Collier Trophy for achievement in aviation for design of NACA Cowling
Langley Propeller Research Tunnel begins operations
1922 1920 Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory dedicated
1915 Congress establishes National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA)
Langley Variable Density Tunnel, the first pressurized wind tunnel in the world, begins operations
1917 Construction of Langley Field begins
LO W E R I N G T H E ( S O N I C) B O O M AT N A S A’ S L A N G L E Y R E S E A R C H C E N T E R
Every single aircraft you’ve ever flown on, every single aircraft you’ve ever seen fly over your head, was developed with [NASA] Langley technology in it. DAVID YOUNG Deputy Director, Langley Research Center
Altogether, Langley employs some 1,750 civil servants and about the same number of contractors, Young says. “On any given day, you’re talking about 3,500 people coming through the gate.” Work continues across a wide array of projects in aeronautics, space, and Earth science. “The number of projects is large because one thing about being a research center, it’s not a matter of doing a few large projects,” Young says. “We have people spread across lots of different smaller projects.” But, Young adds, there is a standout project. “On the aeronautics side, the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator is the biggie.”
LOWERING THE BOOM When the European-built Concorde took flight in 1969, it was with high hopes that it would usher in a new era of supersonic passenger travel. Alas, the 20 planes produced never served more than a niche market flying wealthy travelers on trans-Atlantic flights. That’s because the window-rattling sonic boom created by the plane flying overhead resulted in regulations prohibiting overland supersonic passenger flights. “For those of you who have not heard sonic booms, it is like a cannon going off,” explained Corey Diebler, X-59 flight dynamics and simulation lead at Langley, in a recent NASA video. “They rattle ceiling tiles, they set off car alarms, and when you’re not expecting them, they’ll make you jump.”
Sonic booms are caused by shockwaves produced by an aircraft moving through the atmosphere faster than the speed of sound. “Any little bump on the vehicle will create the shockwaves,” Diebler said. That includes the nose, the wings, and the tail. “With these shock waves, as they travel down toward the ground, they start to pile up, one on top of another, and that just kind of amplifies their strength.” Now, thanks to new design tools, said Deibler, aeronauticists can engineer airframes that keep the shockwaves from piling up, letting them dissipate on their way down. As a result, according to Diebler, a sonic boom should sound less like a cannon blast and more like a car door slamming or the distant rumble of thunder to an observer on the ground. Besides Langley and Armstrong, the LBFD project involves two other NASA field centers. Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley contributes computer analysis, including aerodynamics and boom analysis. Engine testing, among other propulsion-related work, takes place at Glenn Research Center in Ohio. “The goal of the mission is to demonstrate that we do have the technology necessary to lower the boom,” explained Diebler, and “actually achieve this goal of ours of reopening the commercial supersonic industry for passengers like you and me.” When that day comes, you can add it to the list of aviation breakthroughs coming out of the Langley Research Center.
The Space X capsule underwent a series of drop tests at Langleyâ€™s Hydro Impact Basin to help prepare 35 to safely land astronauts.
Mid-Atlantic Regional XXXXX X X X X X X Spaceport, Accomack County
VIRGINIA’S PLACE IN SPACE A Conversation With Dale Nash Dale Nash is CEO and executive director of Virginia Space, the owner and operator of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), at Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. VEDP President and CEO Stephen Moret spoke with Nash about the mission and history of Virginia Space and the opportunities for commercial space flight out of Wallops.
Stephen Moret: Can you provide a bit of perspective and background on Virginia Space? Dale Nash: Virginia Space was created in 1995. It was started when there was a real concern that NASA might close its Wallops Flight Facility to consolidate and reduce costs across NASA. Virginia created a space authority based on legislation from Congress, the Commercial Space Flight Act, and started to look at ways to build and enhance the $1.2 billion-plus that the federal government had invested in Wallops. From 1995 into the mid-2000s, Virginia developed a launch pad to launch rockets with solid-fuel motors into orbit and started to launch, in 2006, DoD and government missions into orbit. In the 2008–2009 timeframe, then-Governor Kaine, now Senator Kaine, was successful in winning the contract with Orbital Sciences, which is now part of Northrop Grumman,
to launch cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station on a medium-class launch vehicle. That was a huge jump forward and a big commitment by Virginia. The first launch pad is about $10 million and puts up to 8,500 pounds into orbit. The launch pad for the Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, which can put 18,000 pounds into orbit and resupplies the International Space Station, ended up being about a $120 million investment by the Commonwealth [between 2010 and 2013]. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport really came of age there. We like to refer to this as a public-public-private partnership — public in NASA, federal government, public in Virginia Space and the Commonwealth, and private in Northrop Grumman, Rocket Lab, and others that come to launch rockets, process satellites, and fly unmanned vehicles.
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was to support government launches with a commercial launch vehicle. Moret: What do you see as the natural advantages that Virginia Space has at Wallops? Nash: The big advantage is schedule capability, especially with the smaller launch providers, because they are really selling the ability to go where you want, when you want, and be very responsive. Also, we have some good cost advantages between ourselves and NASA Wallops. We do feel like we run very costcompetitive operations. Moret: At a high level, what’s the relationship between MARS and NASA Wallops?
Moret: I believe the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is one of four spaceports in the U.S. that’s currently licensed to launch to orbit. That seems like a pretty unique position for us to be in. How did we get to that point? Nash: Virginia Space, which owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, that goes by MARS. It’s funny how that acronym worked out. It was then-Governor Warner, now Senator Warner, who coined that phrase, because we are so integral with Maryland and Delaware and Virginia. It’s one of only four locations licensed by the FAA to launch into orbit in the United States. Orbital mechanics are very demanding, and there are only a few places you can launch to orbit from the U.S. without endangering the public and launching over water. So it’s Florida, obviously; Vandenberg, Calif., which is north of Los Angeles; and Kodiak Island, Alaska; and MARS at Wallops Island. Moret: What’s the general mix of launches at MARS? How much of it is commercial versus academic, or versus government? Nash: The mix of launches out of the MARS launch pads are about 50-50 commercial, maybe even a little heavier commercial right now. That comes from the Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, which is a commercial launch vehicle and part of the commercial resupply to the International Space Station. NASA is Antares’ ultimate customer. Rocket Lab is a commercial launch vehicle with DoD and NASA as customers. They are looking at continuing to provide commercial launches for the federal government out of here and, hopefully, some purely commercial or academic in the future. But the primary reason to develop the launch pad at Wallops, in the U.S.,
Nash: We have a Commercial Space Act agreement. It has been in place since 1995. We are a tenant within Wallops. As you come to our pads, you will go through NASA. You need a NASA badge to get on. As you get to our facilities, you need an additional badge to get into the MARS facilities. We have long-term leases and we have been able to build complementary services, not competitive ones. There would not be orbital launches if we hadn’t built the launch pads. We built the brand-new payload processing facility to handle national security launches that have to be at that highest level of security. We are an add-on and an enhancement to this big capability that NASA has to help enable the private sector or even the public sector to come in and do additional work. Moret: As you think about the future, what are the opportunities for commercial space to grow in Virginia? Nash: I think the opportunities are excellent for commercial space growth at Wallops, as demonstrated by Rocket Lab. That was a very significant win for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Space, and NASA Wallops. We had tremendous support from
A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H D A L E N A S H
What an operating room is to a hospital, a payload processing facility is to a spaceport, and we have one of the nicest ones in the world right now and one of the most secure. DALE NASH CEO and Executive Director, Virginia Space
the Commonwealth, beginning with Secretary Shannon Valentine, who helped us secure a Transportation Opportunity Fund grant in record time, and very, very strong support from the Governor, who, as you know, comes from the Eastern Shore and has been a tremendous supporter from his days in the Senate on up. Also, I don’t want to forget Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball, along with Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne. That was a key part of securing Rocket Lab at Wallops, as well as what we could offer in speed of construction, the expertise with our engineers and hands-on technicians, the flexibility and responsiveness with range. Rocket Lab is anticipating a launch cadence of about a dozen launches a year, and we feel like we can go beyond that with NASA support and the facilities we’re building for Rocket Lab. Moret: Are there any other examples of commercial space growth at Wallops? What are the opportunities moving forward and how will that affect future operations? Nash: You have the capability for at least a couple more launch pads. You could also have co-use of an existing pad. For instance, where we launch the Minotaurs, you will have a family of solid rocket motors there, but it may be modified to have a liquid fuel come out of there as
well. The MARS payload processing facility can absolutely handle multiple customers. Moret: Have there been any challenges that have come with MARS being located in a rural area on the Eastern Shore? On a related note, how has the facility impacted the local economy there? Nash: We commissioned a study by Old Dominion University that showed we have over $1.3 billion a year impact to the region between NASA, Navy, NOAA, Coast Guard, ourselves, Northrop Grumman, Rocket Lab, the unmanned systems. It’s a very big impact to a rural area that is primarily agricultural. We’re finding that it’s not that hard to attract people to the region for space. Space is a magnet. You get some really bright people. We did have challenges initially getting people to locate there. With our internship program, we work with the local community college very hard to develop our technician workforce. We work with engineers in Virginia and surrounding states. On the interns, part of the interview process is, “Would you be willing to locate to a rural area here? Would you be willing to come here later on?” People from Virginia Tech, [the University of] Virginia, and others, if they have grown up in a rural area or Hampton Roads — Old Dominion
students — seem to have no problem relocating to the area. In the community college, we have found some really bright people who live there already, so their family, their parents, and their grandparents are there. It’s not a tough discussion to talk to someone who may be an electrician, a welder, or an IT person with a two-year degree and very smart to come to work there. Moret: Now, what about the commercial space supply chain? Have you seen any parts of that either relocated because of Wallops, or is there an opportunity for that perhaps to happen in the future? Nash: Yes. As Northrop Grumman came on and the launch rate picked up, more and more of the work migrated to Wallops. It’s not just an integration — it’s definitely final assembly of the entire rocket. NASA Wallops has a strong history with smaller satellites. Rocket Lab will be building or doing a lot of final assembly on their rockets. Potential customers have expressed an interest to fully or mostly build the rocket on the Eastern Shore. Rockets are things that you like to build or complete final assembly closer to the pad. It’s one that we think has real potential to grow the supply chain closer to where we launch them. We hope and expect to have the same thing coming into the Wallops Research
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Each successful launch is just an amazing thing to have happen, but it’s tough on the nervous system at times, too. After 38 years, I still get excited.
DALE NASH CEO and Executive Director, Virginia Space
Park. We have built the first building there for Rocket Lab. An integration and control facility where they can process two rockets at a time and have their control center and process small satellites all in one building going into the research park. That’s a real draw as we talk with other folks.
to a spaceport, and we have one of the nicest ones in the world right now and one of the most secure.
Moret: Expand, if you will, on the new payload processing facility at Wallops and how that impacts capabilities on the Eastern Shore.
Nash: Well, It really begins about two weeks in advance. We crank up to 24hour operations, seven days a week, and a lot of things — countdown, the fueling, the validation of systems, and everything else. I still get butterflies every single time.
Nash: National security launches are a big part of what we do in the U.S. There was a definite interest for the smaller satellites looking at Wallops, but the payload processing, which is a good capability that NASA has, was really split between two to three separate buildings. We needed a nice payload processing facility, and we were successful in getting Governor McAuliffe to give us $20 million toward this. It ended up being around $31 million. It is a very secure, very clean, enabling capability that brings the payload customers here, puts us on their radar, and is a big enabling feature that then sells launches and brings the supply chain in. What an operating room is to a hospital, a payload processing facility is
Moret: Dale, talk a little bit about launch day. What’s it like from an internal operations side? Do you still get a rush out of it like you used to?
You want to make it through the count. Once it goes, there’s not a lot of doubt whether it was a success or failure. It is a rush. At some point, the rocket takes over internally, and then it’s going to go or it’s going to shut itself down. Sometimes those last three seconds or so, or the first three seconds before it’s actually clearing the launch pad, seem like an eternity. It is nerve-wracking, but very exciting. We certainly like the successful ones. An unsuccessful one can be very exciting, too, but all in the wrong direction. We do have a lot of energy, and you do know what can happen. Each successful launch is just an amazing thing to have happen, but it’s tough on the nervous
system at times, too. After 38 years, I still get excited. Moret: Can you give me a bit of an overview of the opportunities surrounding unmanned flight on the Eastern Shore? What kind of increase have you seen in traffic on the runway there? What sort of opportunities do you see for the future? Nash: We built a dedicated airfield that NASA had the engineering and permit for, but couldn’t get the funding, so Virginia stepped in and built it out there. We had thought that it might be able to pick up a little more commercial. It is in NASA restricted air space, and you can’t just let anybody come in there and fly, but it has become a very strong destination for government UAS tests or those companies like the Northrops and Lockheeds that build unmanned systems for the government. It’s not busy every day, but there are some pretty big events that come out there. We’re right next to the water, and we have been designated by Secretary Elaine Chao as part of the Marine Highway system. We’re looking to build a dock or a wharf out there to test unmanned water systems, surface and subsurface. That will also provide the capability to bring rocket
Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Accomack County
components or major ground systems there as well. Moret: Dale, I’m curious, what do you like to read about space flight outside of work? What’s your favorite book related to the topic? Nash: It’s space-related, like books related to Apollo 13. I had the good fortune to get to know Fred Haise, who was one of the astronauts on that. In my time down in Florida, he ran Grumman’s operations there and I ran Thiokol’s operations, so we got to know each other. It was at the time they made the movie. He was amazed at how true to form they held the movie. The space industry is moving so fast, it seems like every day it’s a must to read SpaceNews or Aviation Week or whatever else just to keep up with what’s changing and going on. We’re as active in space right now as we were in the 1960s. Moret: I’m curious, what’s your favorite thing about Virginia in the fall? Nash: I love the four seasons around here. I love to get over by the trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah. I love the fall over there in that part of the country. I love the spring, too. When you’re driving through all the redbuds and dogwoods in the spring, Virginia is beautiful. Moret: Dale, we are so grateful for the work you do and so grateful for the role with Virginia Space and just the whole operation there on the Eastern Shore, a great, unique economic asset in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Nash: We look forward to working with you more. You certainly have your hands full with COVID-19, but as we come back out of it, space has potential to grow more and could be a real growth area.
For the full interview, visit www.vedp.org/Podcasts
Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership staff conducts a demonstration of drone traffic management technology at Kentland Farm at Virginia Tech.
With Wing, Google Pioneers Drone Delivery in Virginia ON A GRAVEL LOT just off of Welcome
Street in Christiansburg in Montgomery County, an array of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) recharging pads is flanked by office trailers and shipping containers. As unassuming as the place looks, it’s actually at the tip of unmanned technology development. Home to Google-backed drone delivery company Wing, and only a few miles from a hub of UAV research at the campus of Virginia Tech — the “Nest,” as Wing calls the site — is dispatching small delivery drones with packages to residential customers within a six-mile radius. Wing’s drones are the centerpiece of the first FAA-sanctioned drone-delivery trial in the United States. Starting in October 2019, the company began bringing goods from FedEx Express, Walgreens, and local gift shop Sugar Magnolia to Christiansburg consumers. The deliveries are a learning experience for everyone and require some advance work. Before customers within the defined delivery area can order medications from Walgreens or gifts from Sugar Magnolia via the Wing delivery app, the company sends out a representative to confirm the GPS coordinates of the delivery address and to see if it has suitable, safe drone drop-off spots.
Earlier this year, MAAP collaborated with NASA on the RAAVIN project, testing detectand-avoid issues with aerial drones.
evaluator. Virginia Tech’s relationships with federal UAS research and development centers — notably NASA facilities at Langley and Wallops Island and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in King George County — helped secure the designation. MAAP also handles day-to-day operations of Virginia’s work as one of 10 UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) sites and works extensively on research to help unmanned companies solve technological issues and work with regulators to draft policies and standards. “We spend most of our time helping companies build safety cases to obtain FAA waivers, certifications, or approvals for operations,” Blanks explains.
Once an order is placed, it shows up on Wing’s system at the Nest, where inventory from the trial merchants is stored. Wing’s software determines which drone to use, and a Wing employee prepares the roughly three-pound order package. One of Wing’s 10.6-pound battery-powered drones then fires up, climbs 23 feet above its charge pad, and lowers a tethered hook to which a team member affixes the specially shaped package. The drone then proceeds at about 65 mph, 120 feet above the ground, to the address coordinates. There, it descends to 23 feet and lowers the tethered package to the ground, where the customer (who receives real-time progress notifications from the app) simply unhooks the package. Up the tether goes again, and the Wing drone returns to its Nest. “That entire process typically takes less than 10 minutes,” says Nicholas Devereux, Wing’s policy and government affairs representative.
The quick response time belies years of work that Wing and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) at Virginia Tech have put into making drone delivery trials possible.
AN INNOVATION AND EVALUATION PARTNERSHIP Mark Blanks became acquainted with Wing in early 2016. Blanks is the director of MAAP, part of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech. “We were at a conference and began talking with people from Wing, chatting about the testing, evaluation, research, and development that [Virginia Tech] does,” he said. “That conversation turned into a long-term relationship.” Founded in 2013, MAAP is one of seven FAA-designated unmanned air system (UAS) test centers in the United States — a distinction it owes to Virginia Tech’s 15 years of experience as a UAS systems
One of MAAP’s IPP projects is a partnership with State Farm, which has used drones as a safer, more efficient way to complete roof inspections. The insurance company has worked with MAAP to conduct research on flights beyond line of sight and over people in order to obtain waivers for expanded flights. Dominion Energy has done similar work with IPP, working to obtain waivers to conduct flights beyond line of sight to inspect transmission lines and other infrastructure. Virginia Tech’s reputation was well known by Wing, which began in 2012 as an effort within Google X, the search engine company’s experimental division (now part of parent company Alphabet), which spawned the Waymo self-driving car, among other spinoffs. Wing became an Alphabet subsidiary in 2018. The meeting Blanks described led to a drone delivery trial in September 2016, wherein the company partnered with Chipotle to deliver orders on Virginia Tech’s campus for three weeks. Wing had actually been in discussions to partner with other UAS test sites in the United States, but Devereux credits Virginia’s leadership with inspiring the
XWing X X X Xdebuted X X X X X X its U.S. drone delivery trials in Christiansburg in 2019.
company’s partnership with MAAP and Virginia Tech. “The atmosphere that has been put in place in Virginia is very welcoming to emerging technologies such as ours,” he said. Christiansburg proved to be a good environment for drone tests because of both its proximity to MAAP and Virginia Tech and its “urban light” environment. The town offers some of the characteristics of urban areas without the challenges that more crowded cities present. MAAP and Wing have worked hand in hand to bring the current delivery trials to fruition, with their mutual personnel frequently in consultation between the Virginia Tech campus and Wing’s nearby Nest. Wing’s drone, its flight control/safety systems, and delivery logistics were all developed by the company itself. The first Wing delivery trials took place in Australia in 2018 and continue there, along with another site in Helsinki, Finland.
Experience from these has been applied to the Christiansburg trials while Wing has worked through MAAP for access to Virginia Tech facilities like its Kentland Farm dairy science complex for flight testing. The company has also partnered with other Virginia Tech departments for projects like drone impact testing and a frangible design (designed to break into fragments) for its UAV.
TAKING WING The delivery trials that began last year continue and, according to MAAP and Wing, have been well received. “There’s been an extremely positive public reception,” Blanks said. Devereux attributes that positive response in part to Wing’s partnership with trusted local operations in Virginia Tech and MAAP. He also credits the community outreach Wing did in the months leading up to the trials. Meeting with local officials and first responders was part of a broader effort to educate the community about the realities of drone delivery. Among the lessons the company learned from trials in Australia was the need to respond to public questions about safety, privacy, and noise.
“We set up a booth at every single community festival that we could find,” says Devereux. Wing highlighted the 80,000 successful flights it says its drones have made. The company addressed privacy concerns by explaining that its drones only use low-resolution, grayscale cameras for navigation backup, and that it is working to reduce the volume and lower the pitch of noise that drones make. Wing won’t say how many delivery flights it has made in Christiansburg. The company claims it has never lost a drone and made thousands of deliveries globally. That’s partially because it only flies in fair weather during daylight hours. Blanks acknowledges that weather has curtailed Christiansburg deliveries during the winter, but says there’s long-term value in drone delivery. “We started this at a crawl with a limited number of vendors, products, and coverage areas,” he said, “but as that grows, I expect the value of the service will grow.”
Virginiaâ€™s Unmanned Pioneers Unmanned vehicles have nearly a century of history in Virginia, dating back to Sept. 15, 1924, when Lt. John Ballentine and electrical engineer Carlo Mirick completed the first unmanned, radio-controlled flight in history at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in King George County near Fredericksburg. The Flirtey and Wing drones pictured here are now ticketed for display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
First Unmanned Flight at Dahlgren Ballentine (second from left) and Mirick launched a new era of flight with their 40-minute exercise, during which a bag of sand was strapped into the cockpit to account for the weight of the missing pilot. Ballentine conducted 28 more unmanned tests flights over the next year.
V I R G I N I Aâ€™ S U N M A N N E D P I O N E E R S
Personal Delivery Devices Legalized With the passage of HB 2016 and SB 1207 in 2017, Virginia became the first state to allow unmanned personal delivery devices â€” like this Starship robot at George Mason University in Fairfax County â€” to operate statewide on sidewalks, shared-use paths, and crosswalks.
First Drone Delivery Service Wing, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, launched the first commercial drone delivery service in the United States in 2019, offering deliveries in Christiansburg in Montgomery County. The first simultaneous deliveries were a winter vest shipped via FedEx Express, cough and cold medicine from Walgreens, and chocolates from local retailer Sugar Magnolia. 48
First FAA-Approved Drone Delivery Nevada-based drone delivery company Flirtey completed the first FAA-approved drone delivery flight in Wise County in Southwest Virginia in 2015, carrying medical supplies from Lonesome Pine Airport to the Remote Area Medical clinic, where Governor Terry McAuliffe was on hand to remove the package from the drone.
Torc Robotics, Blacksburg
Autonomous Vehicle Companies Build Foundation of Trust WHEN ANDY SCHAUDT addresses an
audience, he typically asks how many of them have ever ridden in an automated vehicle. At best, a smattering of hands reach skyward. He then recasts the question: How many have ever used cruise control in their cars? “Everybody raises their hands,” said Schaudt, program director for the Center for Automated Vehicle Systems at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). Schaudt would then tell his audience that cruise control is indeed a form
of automation — and that engineers, researchers, and the industry have been conducting research into it, and similar applications, for the better part of 40 years. The two responses arguably illustrate both the present state of robotic technology and the public’s understanding of what it can and cannot do. “It leads to a discussion that we’re using all of these terms interchangeably, and we really don’t understand what they mean,” Schaudt said. “The key is that automated vehicles today are not completely taking the driver out of the loop, so they are not
fully ‘self-driving’ in that sense.” As the nation is well on the path of coming to grips with the emergence of unmanned technology, Virginia is assuming a significant place in the progression. This likewise entails careful assessments, each step of the way, of the capabilities as they emerge into practicable use among the general populace. VTTI, the second-largest university-level transportation institute in the United States with 560 employees, leads much of Virginia’s research into understanding what automation can do. The Virginia
A U T O N O M O U S V E H I C L E C O M PA N I E S B U I L D F O U N D AT I O N O F T R U S T
We do not compromise on the safety side of things…We will deploy self-driving trucks, without anyone in the cab, when it’s safe. MICHAEL FLEMING CEO, Torc Robotics
Connected Corridors, encompassing the Virginia Smart Road at Virginia Tech, Virginia International Raceway, and the Northern Virginia Test Bed in Fairfax County (including sections of Interstate 66, Interstate 495, U.S. 29, and U.S. 50), allows developers to test their applications on roadside infrastructure to minimize delays in demonstration and deployment. VTTI’s Center for Automated Vehicle Systems conducts research to determine the safety and usability of driver assistance systems as well as fully autonomous systems.
highways,” McMahon said. “These regulations are still being worked on.”
Exactly when the sight of autonomous vehicles on the Commonwealth’s roads and in the skies will become as ubiquitous as, say, operator-free passenger elevators is anybody’s guess. Experts agree on one point: It won’t happen until such systems are completely safe. As of today, they are not — not yet, anyway. When that day comes, the same experts see Virginia at the forefront of the enterprise.
The automobile industry is working on driverless automobiles and trucks — and other modes of transportation — that will operate more efficiently and safely than those operated by people, McMahon said.
“Virginia has been one of the leaders among all the states across the country when it comes to automated vehicles,” said Tom McMahon, senior vice president of advocacy and government relations with the Arlington-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to robotics. “The technology is here. The issue is getting to regulations that permit [unmanned systems] operations on the roads and
Equally important, McMahon believes, is upgrading existing infrastructure to accommodate driverless cars and trucks. One key issue is the source of commands each autonomous system would receive and obey. Such prompts could come from radio controllers, or perhaps spectrum-related equipment akin to cellphone towers. This all still needs to be determined, he said.
“We still have 40,000 traffic fatalities in the United States every year, and a lot of those are caused by human error,” he said. “So, we’re looking for automated systems to be built into cars — to make them safer and therefore reduce [that] number.” For the past decade, Blacksburg-based Torc Robotics has been doing just that. The company emerged from a series of competitions Torc CEO Michael Fleming and a group of teammates undertook while he was an engineering student at Virginia Tech. A group formed Torc to keep the team intact and build on the knowledge from the competitions. Torc teamed up with Virginia Tech for a milestone
competition in 2007 conducted by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), that sought innovative solutions in urban situations. The ultimate goal was to develop driverless vehicles and place them in situations that otherwise would endanger human-operated convoys. Fleming and his colleagues finished well enough in that DARPA Urban Challenge to garner attention from the U.S. Department of Defense, leading the team to continue their work as a private company. Torc, now a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks AG, announced an $8.5 million expansion in August, dedicated to the construction of a new facility at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center Research Center that will create 350 new jobs. “We own the IP [intellectual property], we have talent from the university, and we have interest from industry,” Fleming said. “We started chipping away at this crazy idea of commercialized selfdriving technology. And today it’s pretty mainstream, but 13 years ago, it was considered science fiction.” Torc, Fleming said, is probably one of the first organizations that has achieved success in commercializing self-driving technology. The company has since applied its technology to mining, and has had a decade-long relationship with construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar.
A U T O N O M O U S V E H I C L E C O M PA N I E S B U I L D F O U N D AT I O N O F T R U S T
“They have a fleet of self-driving trucks, without anyone in the cab, that are operating around the clock. We’ve been a key partner in making that happen,” he said. The trucking industry is on the cusp of adapting autonomous operations, Fleming said, because the operating environment on highways is more structured and easier to negotiate than those of city streets. Now associated with Daimler Trucks, Torc has been testing autonomous vehicles since the relationship began last August. Before these autonomous trucks make their debut on the nation’s interstates, Fleming said, a host of different technologies must come together in a fashion that balances performance, cost, and safety. The third item, safety, is of paramount importance. “We do not compromise on the safety side of things,” Fleming said. “People often ask me when we are going to see self-driving trucks on the road. They’re looking for a particular date. That’s the wrong [approach]. We will deploy self-driving trucks, without anyone in the cab, when it’s safe. And we still have a lot of work to do.” The New River Valley provides Torc with an ideal location to operate, Fleming believes, with a pool of talent willing to work hard, proximity to a major university, and a low cost of living, especially when compared to the Northeast or California’s Silicon Valley. In Crozet in Albemarle County — also close to a major university, the University of Virginia — Perrone Robotics has chosen to focus on transforming existing vehicles into autonomous vehicles. In a successful three-month open-road trial in Albemarle County using a combination of sensors, cameras, radar, and maps, Perrone’s Autonomous Vehicle for Neighborhood Use successfully navigated vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycle traffic on routes through neighborhoods, downtown Crozet, and Crozet Park. It was the first fully autonomous shuttle to
operate on public streets in Virginia, two years after the first American live-traffic test in Las Vegas. While a human driver was on board, Perrone expects that autonomous shuttles will eventually be remotely operated. Perrone has also partnered with Ohiobased transportation company First Transit to trial a 19-person electric shuttle from electric vehicle manufacturer GreenPower for the city of Jacksonville, Fla. “Technically, we’re going to be in a good place to deploy next year,” said Dave
Hofert, chief marketing officer and vice president of sales for Perrone. “But we’ll need time for all of the different testing and regulations.” Meanwhile, Schaudt and his colleagues have continued to pursue development of autonomous vehicles from an academic standpoint. Companies and computer technology have reached the point, he said, where they can process information fast enough, and there are a sufficient number of sensors so they can start making progress toward removing the human from the driver’s seat.
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This rendering shows the full future extent of the rural section of the Virginia Smart Roads at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. The straight bridge on the left is already operational.
“That’s exciting for scientists and researchers like myself, because we understand that humans contribute a lot of the time to the faults and problems you see on the roadways,” Schaudt said. Development of driverless vehicles, Schaudt said, is offering experts in human behavior the “first crack” at really reducing the number of human fatalities on the highways below where they are now. Enhancement of quality of life also plays a role. Once vehicles are able to go out
and perform tasks by themselves, people can “disengage,” Schaudt said, and regain “time in their life” that otherwise would be spent in traffic. The business model could undergo a tectonic shift as well, with car companies transforming from sellers of vehicles to providers of transportation services. This all would still entail a shift of public perception toward driverless vehicles, Schaudt said. He cites research that shows only 11% to 12% of the population would be willing to get into a driverless car.
“That’s kind of to be expected,” Schaudt said. “I would really encourage people to at least try to be open, and experience [driverless transportation] only when it’s road-ready.” The overall experience would involve passengers getting into a car, sitting back as it accelerates to the speed limit, and riding as it takes them from one address to the next — uneventfully. “Acceptance and trust of these systems on our roadways is going to be [a] huge hurdle to overcome,” Schaudt said.
The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Grayson County features equestrian and cross-country skiing trails in addition to hundreds of miles of hiking trails.
Denbigh High School Aviation Academy, Newport News
Training Mission Denbigh High School’s Aviation Academy is a top-flight launch pad for rising talent ATTITUDE EQUALS ALTITUDE.
That’s the philosophy at Denbigh High School’s Aviation Academy in Newport News in Hampton Roads, a nationally recognized STEM site designed to put no limits on how high students can soar. The only aviation magnet school in the Commonwealth, the school-within-aschool exists in rarified air, joining a handful of similar programs in states including Florida, Arizona, and Texas. Denbigh High School’s Aviation Academy launched in 1995, fueled by a U.S. Department of Defense grant funded through Communities In Schools. Starting out with just 36 students, the flight plan was clear: build a talent pipeline for Hampton Roads’ public and private aviation industry employers, as well as those throughout Virginia, while providing students clear pathways to land these opportunities. “Newport News Public Schools selected aviation maintenance technology as its focus because of the anticipated demand for employees in this high technology career field and the aviation influence of the military facilities,” said Dr. Aaron Smith, Aviation Academy program
administrator. “With Newport News Williamsburg International Airport within three miles of Denbigh High School, this was an excellent match.” That last piece is critical, as Aviation Academy students split time between two sites: Denbigh High School for classroom instruction and the airport’s campus for critical, real-world skills training. The Aviation Academy has since expanded to accommodate about 275 students in grades 9–12. Meanwhile, administrators, faculty, and strategic partners continue to elevate the student experience in novel ways. Today, pupils can study industry trends in the Drone and Virtual Reality Rooms. They can get hands-on training with aircraft including a Sonnex, RV-6, RV-12, Avid, and Cessna — conducting pre-flight op checks, among other things. And students can put their models to the test — seeing how their handiwork fares against 60 knots in the 50-foot wind tunnel.
EARNING THEIR WINGS The initial checkpoint for aspiring Denbigh Aviation Academy students is gaining entry to the program through a lottery alongside all applicants vying for spots in the district’s magnet schools.
Denbigh High School Aviation Academy, Newport News
After acceptance into the program, students have four academic pathways to choose from, each selected based on its alignment with aviation talent needs and designed to provide plenty of hands-on assignments: ◾ Flight Operations: Students can take the controls in the flight simulator lab. Through the Virginia Pathway Program, they can earn 10 hours toward receiving their private pilot’s license. ◾ Aerospace Engineering: Here, classwork can include building a hovercraft and working on CAD programs. ◾ Aviation Safety & Security: A growing need within the industry, this training helps the next wave of aviation professionals ensure that the pace of safety and security keeps pace with innovation.
◾ Aviation Technology: Students in this pathway get to know aircraft from the inside out as they help build an RV-12 plane.
Popular jobs Aviation Academy graduates take on include aerospace engineer, aircraft mechanic, airtraffic controller, electrician, and drone operator.
These pathways represent just the first leg of students’ journeys. From there, they can choose to pursue the next level of aviation training at college. Smith noted that with companies looking to create more diverse workforces, ample scholarships are available, especially for female and minority students.
In addition to the Virginia Department of Education’s curriculum reviews for every career and technical education course at the Aviation Academy, the school’s business partners also share insights on current initiatives and skills they want in their current or future employees. Also, professional organizations such as the Aviation Technician Education Council provide guidance on FAA mandates.
“We also want our students to know that college is not the only option,” he said. For example, a student may wish to fly in the military, so we gladly point them toward a recruiter while providing insight on former alumni who have gone that route as to what was difficult for them and what was comfortable.”
FROM REAL-WORLD TO OUTOF-THIS-WORLD EXPERIENCE In some ways, Denbigh High School’s Aviation Academy students are no different than those attending any other school. For example, they spend time hanging out at their lockers.
D E N B I G H A V I A T I O N A C A D E M Y B U S I N E S S PA R T N E R S
N EW PORT NEW S POLI C E D E PA RT M E N T D R ON E T E A M
But the lockers Aviation Academy students are spending time beside aren’t there to stow their own books, coats, and brown-bagged lunches. Rather, these lockers are missionessential Space Flight Hardware that will contain critical payloads, instrumentation, and supplies for transport and installation aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Through NASA’s High School Students United With NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program, the Aviation Academy has partnered with NASA since 2012 to work on prototypes and special projects for astronauts working on the ISS, including these Single Stowage Lockers. As you might imagine, the process for constructing the lockers is a step up from your typical science fair project. It involves using 40-plus individually machined and extremely tight tolerance components — hardware that must comply with NASA’s stringent engineering, structural, and quality control requirements. “This project blends in perfectly [with the curriculum] as it reinforces skills such as riveting and reading blueprints, which is covered in the Maintenance classes,” Smith said.
N IGHT IN G A L E
E A G L E ’ S N E ST P R OJ E CTS
PA R K VI E W B A P T I ST C H UR C H
There’s also a focus on soft skills that uniquely equips Aviation Academy students for their next mission.
“Students come and take our aviation courses, which has benefitted the students and future employers,” Smith said.
“The program teaches students how to work in team settings, think independently, and allows students to communicate and interact with professionals outside of the classroom,” said Yolanda Watford Simmons, NASA Langley Research Center’s HUNCH Program Manager. “Employers, college professors, admissions, military leadership, and recruiters greatly benefit by gaining career-ready employees who are more likely to be engaged in their work, bringing innovative ideas and fresh perspectives,” she said. “This is an excellent opportunity for employers to expose new hires to their brands.”
Meanwhile, the Academy continues to build on its coursework. In the fall, material focusing on ground and aviation maintenance, as well as drones, will be implemented.
Denbigh Aviation Academy takes on some more down-to-earth collaborations as well. For example, students have taken field trips to Joint Base Langley-Eustis to watch maintenance crews carry out jet refueling.
According to the SME Education Foundation, “Students in the SME PRIME Network receive hands-on training on modern equipment and learn about technology and processes through tailored curriculum that is informed by local manufacturing companies in their communities.”
EXPLORING NEW HEIGHTS The Denbigh Aviation Academy continues to evolve to meet the need of the area’s students and the Commonwealth’s public and private sectors.
For its efforts, Denbigh Aviation Academy has been recognized by the Society of Manufactured Engineers Education Foundation as part of the SME PRIME® (Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education) Network. It is the only school in Virginia to receive such recognition, a distinction earned by about 60 schools across the United States.
Added Smith, “We are part of a proud cohort dedicated to helping to improve the manufacturing industry.”
Just two years ago, Denbigh Aviation Academy invited Poquoson City Schools to participate.
Examples of Virginia’s Aerospace and Aviation Assets, Including Properties With Airstrip Access 77
Virginia’s exceptional infrastructure includes numerous available sites with airstrip access, ideal for aviation companies and manufacturers looking to move product quickly and efficiently. 64
B ec k l ey I16
The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP)
New River Valley Airport Site
at New River Valley Airport
Commonwealth Center for Aerospace 221 Propulsion Systems (CCAPS)
W y t h ev i l l e
58 B r i s to l
Virginia Highlands Airport Site at Virginia Highlands Airport
Johnson City ZEF
Kn ox v i l l e McGhee Tyson
W i n s to n - S a l e m
B al t i m o r e
Airport Business Parc
at Winchester Regional Airport
Washington Dulles International
Virginia Inland Port
Was h i n g to n , D . C .
A l ex a n d r i a
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
Ronald Reagan Washington National
C u l p e p er
Stafford Airport Industrial Park
Shenandoah Valley Regional Charlottesville-Albemarle W13
at Tappahannock-Essex County Airport
Accomack County Airport Site & Accomack Airport Industrial Park
at Accomack County Airport
Chesterfield Airport Industrial Park
Roanoke Blacksburg Regional
R o an o k e
Lunenburg County Airport Site
Blue Ridge Regional Airport Site Danville
S o u t h B o s to n
at Blue Ridge Regional Airport
at Middle Peninsula Regional Airport
Commonwealth Center for Advanced Newport News-Williamsburg International Manufacturing (CCAM) National Institute of Aerospace 460 NASA Langley Virginia Space Grant Research Center Consortium (VSGC) Wakefield Airport Site
at Wakefield Municipal Airport
at Lunenburg County Airport
at Dinwiddie County Airport
Middle Peninsula Regional Airport Site
Richmond Marine Terminal
Fa r m v i l l e
Dinwiddie Airport Industrial Park
at Richmond Executive - Chesterfield County Airport
S o u t h Hi l l
Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center
Port of Virginia - Hampton Roads Terminals
Norfolk Norfolk International CPK
Virginia B eac h
ASJ with Airpark Access Available Sites
Selected Aerospace Assets
Commercial Airports General Aviation Airports
The National Center for Coatings Application, Research, and Education (C-CARE)
ont Triad national
G r ee n s b o ro
NASA Wallops Flight Facility Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport
Tappahannock-Essex County Airport Site
Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional
UVA Hypersonics Research Complex
L e x i n g to n
Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion Systems (CCAPS)
Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division
Fr ed e r i c k s b u r g
S t au n to n
at Stafford Regional Airport
H ar r i s o n b u r g VBW
The Port of Virginia Terminals RWI
Aeroprobe Sets Companies Up for Speed FORMULA 1 RACE CARS,
wind turbines, NASA
rockets, and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) optimize performance based on how air flows around their surfaces at various speeds, altitudes, and temperatures. Aeroprobe, based in Christiansburg in the New River Valley, manufactures the advanced sensors and measuring devices upon which these cutting-edge systems around the world rely.
“From air flowing through turbine engines, to how it moves around a car’s hubcaps, having the ability to precisely measure air patterns, speeds, pressures, and directions are critical,” Aeroprobe President Nathaniel Varano said. “The level of accuracy of the measurement is directly related to the level of refinement of the design. It is a very specialized science.” “Our customers are on the cutting edge of their industries,” he added, “whether it’s designing next season’s F1 race car or the next-generation of autonomous aerial vehicles. Our job is to make sure they have the most accurate and reliable air data measurements so they can perform at the highest level.”
PRODUCTS ENABLE UNMANNED INNOVATION While Aeroprobe’s family of air data and flow measurement systems are the established choices in many high-tech industries, the company’s biggest growth opportunity is the global potential for both autonomous and remotely piloted UAS. “Right now, in the UAS market, our Micro Air Data System is our most popular product,” Varano said. “We make several different models, but they are all small, lightweight, and use little power, which makes them an excellent choice for use on all types of unmanned systems.” That system is in use with numerous leaders in the unmanned field. While many Aeroprobe customers don’t publicize their projects for privacy and security reasons, these publicly known projects used the Micro Air Data System for various applications: ◾ Measuring the angle of attack and angle of sideslip during drop tests of the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft
◾ Providing airflow measurements for Prismatic’s PHASA-35 solar-powered high-altitude, long-endurance UAV for flights up to 50,000 feet and as long as one year ◾ Providing airspeed, angle of attack and angle of sideslip measurements for Delft University of Technology’s Silverwing entry into Boeing’s GoFly personal flying vehicle competition Aeroprobe’s customers rely on the company’s compact, integrated air data systems to accurately monitor a craft’s angle of attack, sideslip, air speed, and altitude. That information is sent to the onboard flight control system in real time to improve the vehicle’s stability and performance during all phases of flight. It’s particularly critical during takeoff, landing, and higher-risk maneuvers. “Because the data is collected in real time, the flight control system can quickly alter the angle of attack, for example, to avoid the loss of lift due to aerodynamic stalls,” Varano said. “Without the information our products
provide, aircraft performance would suffer, and some sophisticated unmanned aerial systems may even be unflyable.”
AEROPROBE’S GLOBAL GOALS Domestically and internationally, Aeroprobe has an established presence with a variety of energy production, transportation, and research companies. But the rapid acceleration of the unmanned aerial systems market has necessitated the refocusing of efforts to increase its global presence. The company has been able to draw on the experience and expertise available through their long association with VEDP’s international trade program, notably the Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program. “The VALET program has been especially helpful to our international efforts,” Varano says. “The program has connected us with export trade experts, international sales representatives, and marketing firms. Its members have also provided guidance and other resources to grow our business in targeted overseas markets.”
A E R O P R O B E S E T S C O M PA N I E S U P F O R S P E E D
MAINTAINING EXCELLENCE IN VIRGINIA Aeroprobe’s reputation in the industry has been built on more than just the accuracy and reliability of its products. The company will recommend competing products if they better fit the customer’s individual needs. “That kind of honesty can be hard to come by, but it is necessary to build trust,” he added. “In the end, we want our customers to know that Aeroprobe is a valued partner. It’s sometimes a longer road, but a more rewarding one for our team and our customers.” Competing in a cutting-edge field requires access to top-tier talent. A critical element of Aeroprobe’s ability to attract the talent it needs is its Virginia location, minutes from Virginia Tech’s world-renowned Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering — ranked fifth worldwide by the most recent Center for World University Rankings — as well as Radford University, where the physics department offers a dual degree
Our customers are on the cutting edge of their industries…Our job is to make sure they have the most accurate and reliable air data measurements so they can perform at the highest level. NATHANIEL VARANO President, Aeroprobe
program with Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. Students who complete the five-year program graduate with bachelor’s degrees in physics from Radford and engineering from Virginia Tech. “Being here in Christiansburg gives us a centralized location in the New River Valley corridor,” he says. “We’re fortunate to not only have so many universities and colleges to recruit from, but there
are also so many great small and midsized technology companies, which draw an active community of entrepreneurs and technologists.” Like numerous other companies, Aeroprobe has found fertile ground for scientific innovation in the New River Valley — and strong markets for its products overseas.
A Region of Opportunity Known as the “Hill City” for the seven hills that dot the cityscape, Lynchburg is the hub of a region that includes Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, and Campbell counties. In 2019, Reviews.org named Lynchburg the No. 1 place in America for millennials to move to, in large part because of the low cost of living and outdoor recreation opportunities. The region offers easy access to the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the James River, and Smith Mountain Lake. The Lynchburg region is home to a number of training and workforce development programs and highly ranked twoand four-year colleges and universities that ensure ample talent, including Liberty University (which offers a bachelor’s degree in aviation), the University of Lynchburg, Sweet Briar College, Randolph College, Virginia University of Lynchburg, Central Virginia Community College, and Virginia Technical Institute.
Lynchburg Region Offers 25 million gallons of excess water per day, making it an ideal location for food and beverage manufacturing
A cost of living 9% lower than the national average
580,000 employees in the extended labor market
We have been in the Lynchburg area of Virginia for more than 50 years. We have access to some of the best university programs in the country and the region offers a growing diversity of activities and opportunities that make this a great place to live and work. GARY MIGNOGNA President and CEO, Framatome, Inc.
Proportionally, the town of Bedford suffered the nationâ€™s severest losses on D-Day, leading Congress to locate the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford County.
R E G I O N A L S P O T L I G H T : LY N C H B U R G
Eight colleges and universities are located in the region, including Randolph College
Lynchburg boasts several historic neighborhoods, and nearby attractions include Appomattox Courthouse and Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s summer retreat
A wealth of outdoor recreation options in the region led to Lynchburg being named as One of America’s Best Adventure Towns by National Geographic
Two nuclear energy companies, Framatome and BWX Technologies (pictured), are headquartered in the region. BWXT is developing nuclear propulsion technology that could power NASA’s mission to Mars 69
Economic Development Partners in Virginia VEDP works in close partnership with local and regional economic development organizations. For a full list of local and regional partners, visit www.vedp.org/Regions In addition, VEDP regularly works with a wide network of statewide partners, including: State Leadership Partners
Project Delivery Partners
Center for Innovative Technology
Policy and Programmatic Partners
Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Commission
Colleges and universities across the Commonwealth (e.g., UVA, Virginia Tech, William & Mary)
Secretary of Commerce and Trade
CSX, Norfolk Southern, and short-line railroads
Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity
Secretary of Finance
Dominion, AEP, and other electric utilities
Virginia Department of Taxation
The Port of Virginia
Virginia Department of Transportation
Virginia Community College System Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
Virginia Chamber of Commerce, as well as many local and regional chambers of commerce
Virginia Agribusiness Council
Virginia Economic Developers Association
Virginia Association of Counties
Virginia Farm Bureau
Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit
Virginia Business Council Virginia Business Higher Education Council Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, Manufacturers Association, Virginia Maritime Association, Virginia Realtors Association, and many other trade associations
Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission Virginia Tourism Corporation
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Virginia Municipal League Virginia Planning District Commissions Virginia Rural Center
Virginiaâ€™s Technology Councils
Roanoke Region New River Valley
I81-I77 Crossroads 77 58
Northern Shenandoah Valley
Middle Peninsula 13
Greater Richmond Lynchburg Region
Virginiaâ€™s Gateway Region
South Central 360 Virginia
in unmanned aerial systems Business Facilities, 2020
This issue highlights Virginia’s place at the forefront of the aerospace, aviation, and unmanned systems industries.