Tag Archives: Vandenberg Air Force Base

Back from Vandenberg

In my trip to Vandenberg Air Force Base yesterday to give a lecture to their local AIAA chapter, I got a quick drive around the southern parts of the base where the Atlas 5, Delta, and SpaceX launchpads are located. This is the same area I toured when I last visited the base back in March 2015.

I had been curious to see the fire damage from the fall wildfires. Unfortunately, a fog bank had rolled in and made it impossible to see the hills behind the launchpads where the fires had raged. I did see some fire damage within several hundred feet of a liquid nitrogen storage facility, but otherwise the clouds prevented me from seeing any of the wildfire damage.

The one item of interest that I did see was at the SpaceX launchpad. While we could not enter the facility, we could see in plain sight the first stage of the next planned Falcon 9 launch. They had hoped to lift off this week, but delayed the launch last week until January to complete the investigation into the September 1 launchpad explosion. Nonetheless, the first stage was there, lying horizontal out in the open air. Several nozzles were removed from the engine array at the stage’s base. Whether they were removed as part of the investigation, or as part of standard maintenance, I do not know.

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Vandenberg wildfire overview given by base commander

In a public meeting yesterday evening, the base commander of Vandenberg Air Force Base gave the public an update on the base’s wildfires that have raged for the past few weeks.

All the fires appear now to be under control. No launch facilities or base housing was damaged. They have increased security and are investigating the causes, including not dismissing the possibility of arson. He also noted that the fires not only caused the delay of an Atlas 5 launch, they might cause a cascading delaying effect on the scheduling of other subsequent launches.

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Vandenberg wildfire expands to 12,000 acres

The wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base that caused the cancellation of an Atlas 5 launch this past weekend has now grown to over 12,000 acres.

According to officials it is now 45% under control. This map, when compared to earlier maps, shows that the expansion has all been to the west and towards ULA’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4 and SpaceX’s Falcon 9/Falcon Heavy launchpads. Essentially, all of the hillsides behind and surrounding the launchpads shown below in a picture I took back in 2015 during my photo tour of Vandenberg are now in flames.

looking south at ULA and SpaceX launch complexes

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ULA to trim working launchpads from 5 to 2

The competition heats up: In order to lower its fixed costs, ULA plans to reduce the number of launchpads it maintains from 5 to 2, one at Kennedy and Vandenberg respectively.

Right now they need to maintain three separate launchpads to operate the Delta 2, Delta 4, and Delta Heavy, which is the main reason the Delta family of rockets is so expensive. This is also the reason that the Delta 2 and Delta Heavy only launch from Vandenberg, as ULA has retired their launchpads at Kennedy.

It appears that ULA’s plan is to design their next generation rocket much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, with as simple as system of launch facilities as possible.

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A photo tour of Vandenberg Air Force Base

Yesterday, as part of my visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base to give a space history lecture to the local section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, I was given a short tour of these west coast launch facilities. While Kennedy is used for launches that circle the equator, Vandenberg, with its southern-facing coast, launches rockets that head south over the ocean for a polar orbit.

We only had time to go inside one launchpad, where unfortunately I was not permitted to take pictures. However, the images I did get will give you a reasonable sense of the layout for this spaceport, which is increasingly becoming a spaceport for private launch companies like ULA and SpaceX. Though the bulk of business for both companies here might be military and government payloads, the future is still going to include a lot of private payloads. The images also help to highlight the differences between these two companies, as well as some past history, as one of these launchpads was once intended for the space shuttle, though never used for that purpose.
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Stay tuned for photo tour of Vandenberg

I am presently at Santa Barbara Airport waiting for my flight home to Tucson after spending the day at Vandenberg Air Force Base. After Steve and Jessica Tullino of the Vandenberg Section of the AIAA gave me a tour of the base, including a close look at one launchpad, I then was their speaker at their section’s luncheon meeting.

Anyway, I took a bunch of pictures and plan to post these sometime tonight or tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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