Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…

SpaceX to Lease Slick Six Launch Pad at Vandenberg

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 26, 2023
Filed under , , , , , , ,
SpaceX to Lease Slick Six Launch Pad at Vandenberg
A Delta IV rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office lifts off from Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. (Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Quinton Russ)

SpaceX will lease Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6) at the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket flights, the U.S. Space Force announced. It will be the fifth launch pad operated by the company.

“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. This agreement will add to the rich history of SLC-6 and builds on the already strong partnership with SpaceX,” said Col. Rob Long, commander of Space Launch Delta 30.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) previously launched Delta IV rocket from SLC-6. The final flight of the booster from Vandenberg was on Sept. 24, 2022.

“The decision is the result of SLD 30’s 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. This was the first round of launch pad allocations, and additional rounds of allocations will occur in the future after further operational analysis,” SLD 30 said in a press release.

SpaceX uses a different launch pad for Falcon 9 rockets at Vandenberg. All Falcon Heavy launches have been conducted from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX also has a launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and one for Starship flights at Starbase in south Texas.

SLC-6, popularly known as Slick Six, was originally developed during the 1960’s to support Titan III launches of the U.S. Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL). Two military astronauts would have spent 30 days in space conducting reconnaissance operations.

The U.S. government canceled MOL in June 1969 without any crewed flights. Cost overruns, schedule delays and improvements in uncrewed reconnaissance satellites rendered the program redundant.

SLC-6 was repurposed during the 1980’s to support military polar orbit launches of NASA’s space shuttle. Those U.S. Air Force scrapped those plans in 1989 following the loss of the space shuttle Challenger and her seven-member crew in 1986. A decision was made to revert to launching military payloads on expendable rockets.

Lockheed Martin conducted four launches of its Athena I and Athena II rockets for SLC-6 during the 1990s. The boosters compiled a record of two successes and two failures.

ULA has conducted 10 Delta IV launches from SLC-6 since June 2006. All flights were successful.

ULA is retiring the Delta IV rocket in favor of its new Vulcan Centaur booster. There are two additional Delta IV launches carrying National Reconnaissance Office satellites scheduled for this year and 2024.

One response to “SpaceX to Lease Slick Six Launch Pad at Vandenberg”

  1. duheagle says:

    The actual press release just mentions “Falcon rockets,” but doesn’t explicitly name Falcon Heavy. It seems to be widely assumed that SpaceX intends to operate Falcon Heavy from SLC-6 in future, but I’m less sure. Do you have any information beyond that contained in the USSF press release to the effect that SpaceX definitely intends to support FH launches out of SLC-6? Conversation with a Space Force public affairs person perhaps?

Leave a Reply