Loudoun’s home-grown aerospace and defense technology innovator has proposed a monument to one of its most significant inventions at the company’s 80-acre campus along Rt. 28.
Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, known as Orbital ATK before its merger with Northrop Grumman on June 5, proposes a monument showing its Pegasus rocket having just separated from a carrier airplane. The Pegasus, which first flew in 1990, is carried into the air on the belly of an airplane, then released midflight where it ignites and carries a package of up to almost 1,000 pounds into low earth orbit.
According to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, the Pegasus was the world’s first privately developed space launch vehicle, the first winged vehicle to accelerate to eight times the speed of sound, and the first air-launched rocket to place satellites into orbit.
An application to the county—filed under Orbital ATK’s name, before the merger—also describes a circular walkway resembling a watch face with 44 pavers representing 44 successful missions. As the Pegasus is still in use, the plan proposes adding additional pavers to represent future successful missions under the nose of the plane. The monument would also incorporate an observation patio and informational displays about the vehicle.
The plane resembles Stargazer, the company’s modified 1974 Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, which Orbital ATK’s predecessor Orbital Sciences Corporation purchased in 1997. Stargazer has been used to launch Pegasus rockets.
The company needs approval from the county Board of Supervisors because the monument falls under Loudoun’s sign ordinance, which in this case would normally restrict the size of a sign to no more than 100 square feet. While the monument isn’t exactly a flat sign, Orbital ATK pegged its area at 8,350 square feet, estimating each side of the plane to have an area of approximately 4,175 square feet.
County planner Chris Blough asked the company to clarify how the proposal addresses a guideline in the Zoning Ordinance that discourages “redundancy,” providing the dictionary definitions of “exceeding what is necessary or normal” or “characterized by or containing an excess.”
Loudoun has a tradition of tight controls on roadside signage since the days of Vinton Pickens, who in 1941 was appointed chairwoman of Loudoun’s first Planning Commission and helped shape the county’s longstanding prohibition on billboards.