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SpaceX Receives Permission To Lease Historic SLC-6 At Vandenberg Space Force Base

Vandenberg Space Force Base has granted SpaceX permission to lease Space Launch Complex 6 for Falcon rocket launches.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Apr 25 2023Written by Zac Aubert

Vandenberg Space Force Base has granted SpaceX permission to lease Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6) for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. The agreement was signed on April 21, 2023, by Col. Rob Long, Space Launch Delta 30 commander.

The decision to grant SpaceX permission to lease the complex is part of SLD 30's launch pad allocation strategy, which evaluates the suitability of various launch sites for different types of rockets and payloads. The process is critical to ensuring that launches are safe and that the selected launch site can accommodate the unique requirements of each mission.

Col. Rob Long, SLD 30 commander, expressed his excitement about the agreement, stating that it will add to the rich history of SLC-6 and build on the already strong partnership with SpaceX. He also emphasized that this is an exciting time for Vandenberg Space Force Base, which is the nation's premier West Coast launch site for military, civil, and commercial space operations.

SLC-6 was previously used to support the Delta IV vehicle family and has been vacant since the final Delta IV Heavy launch on Sept. 24, 2022.

This agreement is the first round of launch pad allocations, and additional rounds of allocations will occur in the future after further operational analysis.

The partnership between Vandenberg Space Force Base and SpaceX will undoubtedly lead to more exciting space missions and contribute to the ongoing advancement of space exploration.

About SLC-6

SLC-6 is a launch complex located at Vandenberg Space Force Base's South Base that was originally part of the Sudden Ranch before being purchased by the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1960s. Construction of the facility started in 1966 to support launches of a modified Titan III for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), but the program was canceled in 1969.

In 1972, SLC-6 was chosen as the western launch site for Air Force shuttle launches, and reconstruction to accommodate the space shuttle occurred between January 1979 and July 1986. The decision to use SLC-6 was due to its dedicated crewed spaceflight role that was left over from the canceled MOL/Titan program and the reduced building costs for the shuttle launch complex by using the existing and partially constructed Titan III facilities.

After spending over $4 billion on modifications to the launch site with modifications to add new flame ducts, storage tanks, launch towers, sound suppression systems, and water reclamation areas. The first polar-orbit flight was planned for October 15, 1986, but was grounded after the Challenger disaster in January 1986.

The Air Force terminated the program at Vandenberg on December 26, 1989, due to several factors including construction cost overruns, contamination, and safety concerns.

The launch site was then modified into a Titan IV/Centaur launch complex, but the project was canceled in 1991 due to insufficient launch requirements.

After the shutdown of SLC-6 for the shuttle program, the US Air Force used the Titan rockets to fly military polar orbit satellites. In the early 1990s, Lockheed began developing the Lockheed Launch Vehicle (LLV) program, which was later renamed Athena. The first launch of Athena was unsuccessful, but after redesigning and testing, the Athena I successfully launched NASA's Lewis satellite into orbit. Another successful launch was conducted with an Athena 2 booster, but SLC-6 was modified again to launch Boeing's Delta IV rocket in 1999. Some of the Shuttle-specific components were removed, but other equipment was retained and made compatible with the new rocket.

Boeing developed the Delta IV class of vehicles for the Department of Defense's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, aiming to reduce launch costs and simplify the process of getting satellites into space. The first Delta IV launch vehicle to fly from SLC-6 successfully lifted off in June 2006, carrying a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. Delta IVs have since launched several missions, including one for the Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program in November 2006 and USA-224 (NROL-49) in January 2011. On September 24, 2022, ULA launched the last Delta IV Heavy from SLC-6, and its successor, the Vulcan Centaur, will operate on SLC-3 at Vandenberg, currently used by Atlas V.