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Commercial Space Firms Looking at Vandenberg AFB, Colonel Says

Santa Maria, Lompoc Chambers of Commerce hear about Falcon flyback plan and Mars missions at 'State of Vandenberg' presentation

Col. Gregory Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, speaks during a joint luncheon involving the Lompoc and Santa Maria Valleys Chambers of Commerce on Wednesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
Col. Gregory Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, speaks during a joint luncheon involving the Lompoc and Santa Maria Valleys Chambers of Commerce on Wednesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A number of commercial space companies are eyeing Vandenberg Air Force Base for future operations, a colonel told a crowd of community leaders Wednesday in an annual speech.

Col. Gregory Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, also noted plans to land a rocket's spent first stage at the coastal site in the future, and the base’s first interplanetary launch of a craft to Mars this spring. 

Wood provided the annual "State of Vandenberg" presentation during a joint luncheon of the Santa Maria Valley and Lompoc Valley chambers of commerce at the Pacific Coast Club on base.

This year’s State of Vandenberg presentation lacked the typical details revealing upcoming launches, personnel numbers and program additions or subtractions. Vandenberg representatives also prohibited video of the event.

Regarding the newest commercial space race, Wood showed a slide with a number of company logos.

“There are so many opportunities in the commercial launch segment right now, and a lot of folks are looking to potentially come to Vandenbeg,” he said. “They’re in various stages of discussion. I can’t promise all these will come, and I can’t promise this is all the companies that are out there.

“But I want you to understand there’s lot of opportunities in the commercial space segment. In addition to our test business, which is steady, this commercial segment is dynamically changing, and I think we’re going to change for the better as a result of it.”

Commercial space refers to private companies developing new rockets and satellites.

While Wood didn't mention any specific proposals, Orbital ATK has revealed plans for a new rocket, and reportedly is looking at Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex-2, which will see its final Delta II launch this fall.

Reports about future commercial space business came as Vandenberg is in one of the busiest times for blastoffs from the base in more than a decade.

In looking ahead, Wood confirmed Space Exploration Technologies plans to have its Falcon rocket flyback to Vandenberg following a future launch. The firm has successfully landed spent first stages on a droneship.

Col. Gregory Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, speaks with Command Chief Master Sgt.Diena Mosely at the State of Vandenberg event Wednesday. Click to view larger
Col. Gregory Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander, speaks with Command Chief Master Sgt.Diena Mosely at the State of Vandenberg event Wednesday.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“I can tell you that we are on a glide slope to see that happen though,” he said. “I think most of the hurdles are behind us. We will see that happen.”

The landing at Vandenberg would occur at Space Launch Complex-4 West, near the Falcon rocket's launch site.

He also noted the planned NASA InSight launch to Mars planned for May 5 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

“That’s going to be a big deal,” Wood said, adding that thousands of visitors are expected for that blastoff.

InSight recently arrived at Vandenberg to undergo final processing before being placed on the rocket.

“That’s going to be exciting for the area and you’ll see a huge influx of people,” Wood added. “It should prove to be real crowd-pleaser."

From a mission perspective, Wood called last May's missile-defense intercept test among the highlights of his career.

“We did something that had never been done before, and it was off this coast, and it was with the airmen you saw in that video making it happen, as we'll as our civilian counterparts and our downtown partners,” he said.

He noted the test resulted in shooting down an ICBM target, prompting audience members to applaud. 

“I’m an engineer, so I’m in awe of the physics and math," Wood said.

The ground-based midcourse defense segment, which has interceptors on alert at Vandenberg and in Alaska, has been likened to hitting a bullet with a bullet.

“That science behind that is truly phenomenal,” Wood said, adding that a successful test sends a message that the technology is ready and tells allies and the American public “we’ve got your back.”

He added, “That was truly a shot heard around the world.” 

During his talk, Wood also reinforced the importance of relationships with neighboring communities.

“Y’all are truly fortunate to grow up with rockets in your backyard, and that’s something that often we can take for granted, but I know you guys don’t,” Wood said. “You are such a huge part of enabling us to do what we do.”

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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