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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 10:42 pm | Fair 51º


After Busy 2018, Vandenberg AFB Expects Fewer Launches in 2019

New commercial space customers could see the pace pick up in a few years, colonel tells community leaders

Col. Michael Hough, center, 30th Space Wing commander, talks talks to Orcutt resident and event master of ceremonies Bob Hatch, left, and an airman. Click to view larger
Col. Michael Hough, center, 30th Space Wing commander, talks talks to Orcutt resident and event master of ceremonies Bob Hatch, left, and an airman before the joint luncheon of the Santa Maria and Lompoc chambers of commerce on Thursday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Vandenberg Air Force Base will have a lull in launches for 2019, but the pace could pick up in a few years, Col. Michael Hough told a room full of community leaders on Thursday.

Hough, who leads the primary unit at Vandenberg, delivered his “State of the 30th Space Wing” presentation during a luncheon at the Pacific Coast Club on base. 

The annual event involved a joint meeting of the Santa Maria and Lompoc chambers of commerce.

Last year, the base hosted several high-profile liftoffs, including the first interplanetary mission to Mars for the West Coast, the final Delta II rocket launch  and the first Falcon rocket flyback to the launch site. 

In all, Vandenberg last year saw — or heard in some cases due to the coastal marine layer —  13 rocket launches and missile tests.

“We do expect the launch schedule to grow,” he said. “But in 2019, when it comes to satellite operations and putting satellites into space, there is a lull right now. There’s new companies coming on board, and that’s going to take them awhile.

“But we do see projections in two to three years where that’s actually going to pick up,” he added.

Development of a new Ground-based Strategic Deterrent, a next-generation weapon to replace the fleet of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, also should lead to a boost in launch activity at Vandenberg within five years.

Unlike past presentations, the speech lacked many of the specific details, such as the planned numbers of launches for 2019.

Vandenberg Honor Guard members present the colors. Click to view larger
Vandenberg Honor Guard members present the colors at the start of the joint luncheon for Santa Maria and Lompoc chambers of commerce on Thursday.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

After an audience member asked, Hough said the manifest includes only one more satellite-carrying rocket launch this year, along with Minuteman III missile tests and a Ground-Based Interceptor test. 

Hough said Vandenberg has attracted a lot of interest among commercial space companies hoping enter the 21st century space race, he said.

The growth of commercial space companies has meant the government is less involved in the launch business, bringing cultural changes for Vandenberg's interaction with customers. 

“When you’re dealing with those commercial customers, they don’t have the patience,” Hough said. “They’ve got to make money, and they have a customer that they’re trying to provide service for.

“It’s forcing us to re-look at the way we do business,” Hough said, adding that the military recognizes that something that once took a week to approve needs to be handled faster. 

“They’re innovative, which causes us to be more innovative. … It’s been good,” he said. 

Vandenberg still plays a vital role as the operator of the Western Range, which monitors just-launched rockets and missiles to ensure they remain on their flights paths and don’t veer off course to pose a danger. 

One audience members asked how the Trump Administration push to create a “space force” as a new branch of the military will affect Vandenberg.

“Good question and I don’t know,” Hough said. “That’s the honest truth. Right now it’s very tenuous, the space force. 

The decision to create the space force will be up to Congress, he added.

“Right now, that’s far down the road,” he said, adding that speculation is that Vandenberg would be part of a space force, if created.

He also called upon the community leaders to help the Air Force and other branches tackle a problem faced by military spouses. 

As the military members move to new assignments, their spouses with careers find stumbling blocks in landing new jobs due to varying licensing requirements. 

“Utah cracked the code on this,” Hough said, adding that the state passed legislation to recognize other state’s licenses so spouses who have careers such as teaching can easily get jobs.

Hough also told the community members about a developer seeking to create golf courses on base property. Vandenberg’s Marshallia Ranch shut down due to high water costs and a low number of players.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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