NORFOLK, Va. (AP) – A rocket carrying satellites for the Air Force and NASA is set to blast off Monday from the Virginia shore in the first launch from the mid-Atlantic region’s commercial spaceport.

The site is one of only six federally licensed launch centers in the nation.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport has three more launches scheduled for 2007 and eventually could send supplies to the international space station or even tourists into space, said director Billie Reed.

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, a state agency, built the launch pad in 1998 on land leased from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, which has been launching research rockets since 1945. Maryland later joined the commercial venture.

The Air Force will pay the spaceport $650,000 for the launch.

The Air Force’s TacSat-2 satellite will test the military’s ability to transmit images of enemy targets to battlefield commanders in minutes – a process that currently can take hours or days.

The Air Force envisions a system that would allow commanders to send questions directly to a satellite and receive an answer “before the satellite passes back over the horizon,” said Neal Peck, manager of the project.

The Minotaur I rocket also will transport NASA’s shoebox-size GeneSat-1 satellite, which carries a harmless strain of E. coli bacteria as part of an experiment to study the long-term effects of space on living organisms. The results could be useful for NASA’s mission to Mars.

California has two FAA-licensed spaceports. Florida, Alaska and New Mexico have one each, and Oklahoma is pursuing a license for a seventh spaceport, Reed said.

Florida has had two launches, one California spaceport has had two, and the Alaska spaceport has had one orbital launch, Reed said.

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