Col. Robert Long, Space Launch Delta 30 commander.
Col. Robert Long, Space Launch Delta 30 commander, delivers the State of Vandenberg Space Force Base speech Wednesday during a joint luncheon for the Santa Maria and Lompoc chambers of commerce. Credit: Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo

A busy launch year in 2022 will be followed by an even busier 2023 with possibly twice as many missions, Vandenberg Space Force Base’s top commander said Wednesday.

Col. Robert Long, Space Launch Delta 30 commander, delivered the “State of VSFB” presentation during a joint luncheon organized by the Santa Maria Valley and Lompoc Valley chambers of commerce.

About 200 people, including elected officials, community leaders, military personnel and business people, attended the annual event held at the Pacific Coast Club. 

During 2022, Vandenberg conducted 19 launches — 16 of which involved space missions while three were missile tests — making it the busiest 12 months in 26 years, Long said.

“As you can tell, active time, active year. It’s exciting to be here,” Long said.

He later declared, “The future is bright and going to be busy.”

The manifest for 2023 shows 40 to 45 launches, he said. The final tally will depend on a number of factors, including favorable weather and technical troubles that can cause delays. 

The rate for 2024 could be even higher, he added, saying the forecast does not show a slowdown in the launch numbers for the foreseeable future.

With Vandenberg boasting a large amount of vacant land, other military organizations have eyed the base for their programs, he said.

“We get a lot of interested parties asking about what can Vandenberg provide to us, whether that’s Space Force, whether that’s other agencies or other civil partners,” Long said.

Vandenberg, at more than 100,000 acres, accounts for 78% of the acreage for Space Force bases, leaving room for more missions.

“There are few options that have the flexibility that we do, but we’ll have to see how that plays out,” Long added. 

Noting that California-based rocket companies sometimes send their vehicles into space from Alaska and New Zealand, Long said he determined that a number of factors affect Vandenberg’s competitiveness in attracting customers. That includes environmental issues, housing availability, construction costs, worker supply and more.

Base leaders recognize opportunities brought by the “New Space” industry and the fact that Vandenberg has a long history as an established spaceport, he added. New Space is the term for young firms looking to enter the industry with brand-new launch vehicles or satellites.

“On the Vandenberg side, here’s what we’re doing in terms of investing in opportunities,” Long said. “We’re very much interested in building out our infrastructure where we can to modernize it — much of it is shuttle-era infrastructure,” he said, adding that they hope to move forward on identified projects to move into the 21st century. 

He said Vandenberg looks to expand partnerships, recognizing there could be gaps in capabilities and services that remain to be solved.

Last year, Long participated in the All California Defense Leadership Summit to focus on the issues and challenges faced by Vandenberg and other installations.

Col. Robert Long, 30th Space Launch Delta commander.
Col. Robert Long, 30th Space Launch Delta commander, talks to an attendee at the State of Vandenberg Space Force Base luncheon, an annual event for Lompoc and Santa Maria Chambers of Commerce. Credit: Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo

That summit last summer included an announcement about the creation of the Space Industry Task Force to advocate for aerospace. 

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity. There are analogous organizations across the country that foster economic development and have been very successful doing that for local communities and I’m looking forward in how we can best work with the state in that arena,” Long said. 

During the luncheon, Long also recognized the recipient of the Robert Hatch Community Service Award presented to Sylvia King, who has led a Lompoc Chamber of Commerce effort to hold a military appreciation barbecue on base each year. The award is named for Hatch, a longtime supporter of Vandenberg and its personnel.