Rocket Lab USA, a private rocket provider, broke ground on a factory for its Neutron rocket at a site adjacent to the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia’s Eastern Shore on Monday. Politicians and officials at the event praised the expansion of Rocket Lab in Virginia as a sign of the expanding importance of Virginia’s spaceport.

“This is the first announcement of an aerospace production facility on the Eastern Shore,” Virginia Space CEO Ted Mercer said.

“For the first time in the Commonwealth, we will be building rockets. It’s awesome,” he said.

Rocket Lab already has a presence at Wallops for its Electron rocket; it is expected to hold its first launch later this year from its Launch Complex 2, according to While the Electron rocket has a payload-to-low-Earth-orbit capacity of 661 pounds, the fully-reusable Neutron rocket will have a max payload-to-low-Earth-orbit capacity of over 17,000 pounds.

“Neutron is a new generation of rocket that will advance the way space is accessed, and Virginia makes perfect sense as a significant site for Neutron’s early development,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a February announcement of the site selection. “Its position on the Eastern Seaboard is the ideal location to support both Neutron’s expected frequent launch cadence and the rocket’s return-to-Earth capability of landing back at its launch site after lift-off; and as one of only four states in the United States with an FAA spaceport license for missions to Earth orbit or on interplanetary trajectories, Virginia is home to an active and experienced aerospace workforce we can pull from to support Neutron’s development and launch.”

The presence of the facility and the rocket is a step forward for the spaceport, which frequently launches scientific balloons and suborbital rockets, but has also launched cargo missions to the International Space Station.

The 250,000 Neutron Production Complex will occupy 28 acres adjoining the Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, and will bring up to 250 high-skill jobs to the area, according to the release. Rocket Lab already works with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. The Rocket Lab press release says Virginia has set aside $30 million for improvements at the spaceport, and $15 million in site improvements from the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission.

Governor Glenn Youngkin attended the groundbreaking. Delegate Robert Bloxom Jr. (R-Accomack) said that the governor is already familiar with rockets as a longtime investor.

“This will be the U.S. launch site [for the Neutron rocket.] It fundamentally changes the trajectory of this great facility,” Youngkin said. “Not only because I dreamed of being an astronaut is this exciting, but when we begin to think about what in fact is going to happen here – what’s going to happen here from a science standpoint, from a commercial standpoint, from an opportunity standpoint.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].