DULLES, Va., 19 Nov. 2014. Space technology company Orbital Sciences Corp.’s (NYSE:ORB) Technical Services Division (TSD) in Greenbelt, Md., won a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) contract to operate the space agency’s Science Balloon Operations program.
Orbital’s TSD will provide program management, mission planning, engineering services, and field operations for the scientific balloon program, which has a 50-plus year history of support for high-altitude scientific research. The NBOC is executed primarily from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. Orbital TSD personnel will conduct balloon missions from locations in the U.S. and around the world, with flight rates of approximately 15 per year.
The contract, won in a competitive selection process, is valued up to $185 million over a five-year term. The NASA Balloon Operations Contract (NBOC) is administered by the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Wallops Island, Va.
“We are excited to be part of an advanced research and technology program with a distinguished legacy of providing critical scientific data for experimenters around the world,” says John Pullen, Orbital’s senior vice president and general manager of the Technical Services Division. “We look forward to playing an important role in helping to maintain Wallops Flight Facility’s position as the world leader in scientific ballooning and suborbital space and Earth science research.”
Over more than five decades that scientific research has been conducted using high-altitude balloons, there has been a vast increase in experiment sophistication, flight frequency, and mission durations, officials say. The growth in balloon size, payload mass, and electronics support has been dramatic, increasing from an average payload mass of approximately 400 pounds in the 1960s to payloads that commonly weigh 5,000 pounds and are routinely carried aloft by balloons of 20 to 30 million cubic feet today.
The NBOC supports scientific research in areas such as X-ray, ultra-violet, optical and infrared astronomy, as well as in atmospheric conditions, magnetospherics, micrometeorite particles, and cosmic microwave background studies. In addition to the balloon operations conducted in the United States, international operations have been carried out in Australia, South America, Europe, Asia, and Antarctica.
The NBOC contract adds to Orbital’s large presence at WFF, which also includes the prime contractor role for NASA’s Sounding Rocket Operations Program-2 (NSROC-2), and from which the company assembles, tests, and launches Antares and Minotaur space launch vehicles. With the addition of the NBOC program, Orbital will maintain a permanent WFF-based workforce of approximately 250 employees, with substantial influx of other employees and contractors during space launch operations.