United Launch Alliance will vacate Historic Space Launch Complex 6 of the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California after a Delta 4-Heavy rocket launches Saturday, leaving the armed forces to seek a new tenant for the launch pad once planned to send space shuttles into orbit on the West Coast. Saturday at 2:53 p.m. PDT (5:53 p.m. EDT; 2153 GMT), a Delta 4-Heavy rocket will lift off from SLC-6, a launch pad located on a steep hill near the southwest side of Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 225 kilometers (140 miles) north of Los Angeles.
After more than two decades of continuous operations, the final West Coast launch of the Delta 4 Heavy rocket took place on November 17, 2018. The 370-foot-tall launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California will now be abandoned. But its fate remains uncertain, as no new rocket or spaceport has been identified to replace it. The 394th Space Wing commander Colonel Bradford Cross and his team are working toward a fast track demolition plan for the historic SLC-6 launch pad in order to avoid decades of neglect that other former launch sites have experienced. In this article, we take a look at the history of the Vandenberg Air Force Base and its final Delta 4 Heavy mission with all the details about what’s next for Space Launch Complex 6 and other important buildings around it.
A Brief History Of The Vandenberg Air Force Base
The history of the Vandenberg Air Force Base began in July 1941, when the California Division of War Public Works requested federal funding for the construction of a military base near the city of Lompoc in Santa Barbara County. The site was chosen because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the distance from the Pacific Coast Defence Segments of the West Coast. The new base was named Vandenberg Air Force Base in July 1947 in honor of the recently deceased General Hoyt Vandenberg, who had served as the second Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Vandenberg AFB is best-known as the launch site of the first Atlas rocket, which was the first Eastern Bloc missile to break the sound barrier. As the Cold War progressed, the demand for long-range reconnaissance and military spaceflight increased. In response, the Air Force began planning to expand and improve its facilities at the California base. Vandenberg AFB is now home to the Western Range of the Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center.
The Historic Launch Pad: From Titan 2 To Delta 4
The first and only launch pad built for Titan 2 rockets was started in 1963 and was completed three years later. The Launch Complex 6 (LC-6) was built to host unmanned reconnaissance missions into polar orbit and manned Gemini launches. The pad was also prepared for the planned Manned Orbiting Laboratory and Manned Orbital Laboratory programs. However, both projects were canceled during the end of the 1960s. LC-6 hosted its first launch on February 25, 1966 when a Titan 2 rocket launched a classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite from the West Coast. Eight more Titan 2 launches took place from the pad through August 16, 1968. The Titan 2 launch pad was modified for the Titan 23D and later for the Titan 34D vehicles. The last Titan 23D flight took place in 1993 and the last Titan 34D launch took place in 1995.
Final Mission Of The Delta 4 Heavy Rocket At Vandenberg AFB
The last launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base took place on November 17, 2018 when the final West Coast Delta 4 Heavy rocket lofted the classified W-74 satellite into orbit. The mission was originally scheduled to be the last Delta 4 launch in 2017, but it was eventually moved to the California coast. The 70th and final launch of the Delta 4 family was scheduled to place a classified payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The rocket’s first stage was powered by a set of two RL10C engines while the second stage was equipped with a single RL10B-2 engine. The final West Coast Delta 4 Heavy flight ended with a successful launch of the W-74 payload. The mission marked the end of an era for Vandenberg AFB.
What’s Next For SLC-6 ?
The future of Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Launch Complex 6 remains uncertain due to the lack of new rockets or spaceports taking its place. The launch pad is being considered for demolition and the demolition schedule remains uncertain. However, the Air Force plans to keep the blockhouse and portions of the pad intact. The future of other buildings around the launch pad is unclear, as most are waiting for a decision about the fate of the launch complex.
Other Important Structures At Vandenberg AFB
The West Coast launch complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base is not the only historic facility that will be affected by the retirement of the Delta 4 rocket. The launch control center at Space Launch Complex 6 was built in 1963. It was designed to control Titan 2 rockets during unmanned reconnaissance missions into polar orbit and manned Gemini launches. The launch control center was modified in the late 1960s to support the Titan 23D and later the Titan 34D rockets. The building was used for the last time during the launch of a GPS satellite aboard a Titan 34D rocket in 1995. The launch control center was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2017. It is currently unoccupied, but it is being preserved for future use.
Lessons Learned From SLC-6 And Its Future
The launch complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base was used for almost a half century before the last Delta 4 rocket took flight. The pad was modified and repurposed multiple times to accommodate different rocket families and payloads. The pad was used for the final time to send a data-gathering satellite into orbit. However, it is unclear what the future holds for the historic launch complex. The fate of the complex depends on the demand for space launches in the future and the suitability of new launch sites. There are several spaceports being built around the country, but no one knows when they will be ready to host their first launch.
The final West Coast Delta 4 mission was the last launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The historic launch pad is now facing an uncertain future. Its fate remains unclear, as no new rocket or spaceport has been identified to replace it. The launch complex is being considered for demolition, but its repurposed launch control center will be preserved. The historic launch pad is one of the few remaining examples of the first generation of launch facilities.