Tag Archives: Vandenberg

ULA reduces workforce at Vandenberg

Capitalism in space: In an effort to save costs ULA is reducing its workforce at Vandenberg by 48.

The company has been aggressively trying to streamline its operations to better compete against SpaceX. This reduction was expected, and based upon what I saw when I toured Vandenberg a few years ago, entirely justified. While SpaceX’s operations then looked lean and simple, ULA’s set up appeared a bit inefficient.

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SpaceX to double leased space at Los Angeles port

The competition heats up: SpaceX has requested a doubling of its leased space the port of Los Angeles in order to facilitate the return of first stages launched from Vandenberg.

The Board of Harbor Commissioners will vote at its Thursday morning meeting on a deal to enlarge Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s footprint at San Pedro’s outer harbor. The company hopes to lease 4.6 acres of land and water area along Berths 51 to 53 for $23,735 a month, plus insurance and any incidental costs.

In addition to extra space, the lease agreement allows the company to have berthing rights, install a chain-link fence around the property, build a concrete rocket-support pedestal, and add an office trailer, guard shack and portable restrooms, according to a staff report prepared for the commission.

According to the article, the increased space is needed because of the company’s plans to launch every two weeks from its pads at Kennedy and Vandenberg.

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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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Atlas 5 Vandenberg launch delayed again

The ULA Atlas 5 launch of a commercial satellite at Vandenberg that has been delayed repeatedly for numerous reasons, some (wildfires) completely unrelated to the rocket, has been delayed again for five days because of “booster issues”.

The news reports do not say what these issues are.

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Vandenberg launches will not resume until late October at the earliest

Because of continuing repairs following the extensive wildfires at Vandenberg, ULA’s commercial launch using its Atlas 5 rocket will not take place until late October or early November, at the earliest.

It appears once again that the repairs involve damage to the infrastructure at Vandenberg, not the launchpads or rockets.

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Launches at Vandenberg remain suspended due to wildfire damage

It appears that though they had reported that the wildfires at Vandenberg Air Force Base had left the launch facilities undamaged, launches remain suspended due to necessary repairs.

Vandenberg officials have been tight-lipped about damage beyond confirming downed power lines in the area, despite unconfirmed reports in the local communities about a tracking station, weather sensor or other critical support equipment being ruined in the fire. Other unconfirmed reports mention damage to communication equipment.

ULA officials last said the launch would not occur before early October, but never released the targeted launch date as the Air Force began surveying damage and crafting a recovery plan. The Air Force remains mum about what was damaged or affected by the fires.

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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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Update on wildfire at Vandenberg

Despite efforts to be rein it in, the wildfire at Vandenberg continues to burn and spread.

It has grown to include at least 5,000 acres.

The overhead image of the burn area at the link shows three launch sites. The SLC-3E site is ULA’s launchpad for the Atlas 5. The SLC-4E site is SpaceX’s launchpad at Vandenberg. The SLC-6 site was the site originally built for the space shuttle, never used, and has now been redesigned for ULA’s Delta rockets as well as payloads that need to be integrated vertically. For some close-up pictures, see my Vandenberg photo tour from 2015.

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Vandenberg wildfire spreads

The wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base that caused the cancellation of Sunday’s Atlas 5 launch has spread and remains out of control.

Zaniboni said the fire is burning north to northwest toward two launch pads — Space Launch Complex-4, the SpaceX launch site, and SLC-3, where base officials scrubbed Sunday’s launch of an Atlas 5 rocket carrying the WorldView 4 satellite. Although the fire did not pose an immediate threat to SLC-3 at the time, Col. Paul Nosek said it required the base to redeploy firefighters from stand-by at the launch site.

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Tank tests for launch abort rocket

The competition heats up: This week SpaceX conducted at Vandenberg a tank test of the booster rocket that will be used for its Dragon in-flight launch abort test later this year.

That they are doing these tank tests at Vandenberg is interesting. I would think the actual abort test would take place at Kennedy, where astronauts will be launched. Either the company is taking advantage of its second launchpad to save time while Kennedy is in use for Monday’s Dragon launch, or they will actually do this launch abort test out west. In truth the test can be done from Vandenberg. The flight path will be different, but the technical requirements will be essentially the same.

Note that this booster is for the in-flight launch abort flight, scheduled at this moment for July, not the launchpad abort test, scheduled at this moment for May 2.

Also, it is interesting to compare the pictures of SpaceX’s Vandenberg launchpad in this article with the pictures I took when I visited Vandenberg two weeks ago. Then, the pad was quiet, with no rocket visible (though it is likely that this booster stage was inside the building being prepared). Now it is quite busy.

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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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