Governor Northam held a virtual press conference Thursday to announce the selection of retired Major General Ted Mercer Jr. to be the new head of the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island. Mercer will take the place of Dale Nash who is retiring effective August 1.
“Major General Mercer has extensive experience in space with the United States Air Force and in industry, and his proven ability to bring partners to the table to work toward a shared goal will greatly benefit both Virginia Space and the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Under his leadership, Virginia is poised to maximize the investments we have made in our world-class spaceport and launch into the future as a leader in space exploration, research, and commerce.”
Mercer served in the US Air Force for 32 years attaining the rank of Major General. In 2016, Mercer was named Director of the Interagency Planning Office for the “NextGen” program at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He later served as Director of the NextGen Collaboration and Messaging Office, where he ensured collaboration and coordination with partner agencies and other countries.
Mercer will take over a growing operation. According to Nash, the overall economic impact to the area of activity at MARS is $1.3 billion annually.
The future of MARS appears to be bright. The continuing launches by Northrup Grumman’ s Antares launches supplying ISS plus Minotaur’s classified launches and the entry of Rocket Lab as a regular user could up the annual launch count to between 20 and 25 in the next couple of years.
Rocket Lab plans to introduce the Neutron launch vehicle which could eventually send humans into space as well as larger cargo payloads. The plan is to make MARS the launch site “of choice” to both commercial and government launches.
Nash said that plans are being made to begin the construction of up to 3 more pads enabling the site to increase the number of launches substantially.
Governor Northam said that one purpose of MARS is also to attract young people to the industry. Northam cited the relationship to Eastern Shore Community College as a big plus for MARS.
Mercer said he will continue Nash’s mission to make MARS the place of choice for both commercial and government launches.
Evelyn Shotwell of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce asked Mercer what his vision was of the relationship of MARS with the surrounding community. Mercer said this:
Mercer said he will work closely with Nash and NASA to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.