After climbing off a foggy launch pad Thursday morning, a Falcon 9 rocket carries 46 Starlink satellites to orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base. Credit: SpaceX photo

A Falcon 9 rocket rose away from Vandenberg Space Force Base on a foggy Thursday morning, days after SpaceX secured a second launch site on the West Coast. 

The two-stage rocket built by SpaceX lifted off at 6:40 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4  en route to deliver 46 Starlink satellites into orbit. 

After finishing its task, the first-stage booster, making its 13th flight on Thursday, returned to land on a drone ship stationed in the Pacific Ocean.

Deployment of the satellites took place approximately an hour after liftoff, according to SpaceX.

The launch, the eighth Falcon flight from Vandenberg this year, occurred a week after Col. Rob Long, Space Launch Delta 30 commander, signed a statement of support on April 21, granting SpaceX permission to lease Space Launch Complex-6 (SLC-6) for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket vehicles. 

“This is an exciting time for Vandenberg Space Force Base, our nation’s premier West Coast launch site for military, civil and commercial space operations,” said Col. Rob Long, SLD 30 commander. “This agreement will add to the rich history of SLC-6 and builds on the already strong partnership with SpaceX.”

Delta IV Heavy rocket
The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket sits at Space Launch Complex-6, which next will become home to the SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy launch vehicles. Credit: Contributed photo

The site will provide SpaceX a West Coast facility for launching some of the heaviest payloads. 

SLC-6 most recently supported the United Launch Alliance  Delta IV vehicle family and has remained launch-less since the final  Delta IV Heavy liftoff on Sept. 24, 2022

Vandenberg officials said the decision came as the result of the “launch pad allocation strategy, which is a process to evaluate 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,” base officials said in a written statement. 

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

SLC-6, which sits tucked in a South Base valley that mostly hides it from view from the Lompoc Valley, once served as as home to the West Coast space shuttle launch site. However, the facility was mothballed before the program saw any liftoffs.

Even before the space shuttle a different program, the Air Force develop facilities for the  military’s Manned Orbiting Lab, which also was canceled before a launch. 

After the MOL and space shuttle program cancellations, the site sat empty for years before a small rocket with several names — Lockheed Launch Vehicle, Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle and Athana — finally provided the first flight from SLC-6.

Delta IV later took over the site keeping the historic site active after decades of disappointment due to program cancellations. 

The Falcon launch from Vandenberg was one of two missions planned by SpaceX on Thursday. A Falcon Heavy remains on track for liftoff from Florida later Thursday, SpaceX officials said.