A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket sets at Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Space Force Base.

by Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

December 4, 2023 | 6:23 pm

With the Delta IV rocket headed to retirement, SpaceX has moved onto SLC-6, with plans for launches and landings of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. United Launch Alliance photo

A busy SpaceX soon will be even busier with the addition of a second launch pad and a heavy rocket at Vandenberg Space Force Base, where the firm’s yearly liftoff rate could reach 100 in a couple years. 

Nate Janzen, manager of launch pad systems and operations for SpaceX at Vandenberg and a 10-year employee of the firm, spoke last week during the 10th annual celebration and Future Forum for the Economic Alliance Foundation, or EconAlliance, at the Santa Maria Country Club.

“We’re really ramping up Vandenberg to rates that we’ve never seen before and the area hasn’t seen before,” Janzen said, prompting applause from the audience.

From one launch four years ago to three the next year and 12 the following year, SpaceX expects about 30 liftoffs by the end this year.

For 2024, the rate could jump to 50, then rocket to 100 in 2025.

“Next year, we’ll be launching about once a week, but the plan, in about two years, is about every three to four days,” Janzen said.

Nate Janzen, right, from SpaceX speaks to Jim Bray after his presentation to the Economic Alliance Foundation last week in Santa Maria.
Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo

Several audience members, who remember years when Vandenberg’s launches numbered in single digits, muttered “wow” at the pronouncement. 

Launch rates stem from the number of payloads needing rides into space. The development of mega-constellations such as Starlink, Starshield, OneWeb and others has helped boost the number of rocket launches.

Janzen credited the incredibly high launch rate on the SpaceX philosophy of reusability. The first-stage booster is recycled, cutting the time between missions and the cost of getting payloads into space.

The firm also recycles the clamshell payload fairings, or nose cone, for use on multiple missions. 

“If you want to launch as much as I’ve talked about, the only possible way is to reuse the booster, and do as little maintenance as you can and get ready to launch again,” he said. 

Falcon 9 rocket boosters initially were designed to launch 10 times, a number later upped to 15. 

They’ve now been certified for up to 20 launches, a number that could be exceeded. The first-stage booster flown for Friday’s mission from Vandenberg marked its 17th liftoff. 

Next year, SpaceX will re-evaluate and conduct analysis with an eye toward certifying the first-stage boosters for 25 to 30 flights, he said. 

Earlier this year, SpaceX announced it had leased Space Launch Complex-6 to give the firm a second launch facility on the West Coast. Thus far, missions have taken place at Space Launch Complex-4.

Originally built by for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory and rebuilt for the West Coast space shuttle — both programs canceled before any liftoffs occurred — United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV rocket blasted off from the site.

With the final Vandenberg Delta IV launch from SLC-6 last year, ULA prepared to move out of the site and SpaceX decided to move in — allowing the Falcon Heavy missions to take place in the future from there. 

Work to ready the site should begin soon, with a goal of the first Falcon launch from SLC-6 taking place in mid-2025, Janzen added.

In addition to Falcon 9, SLC-6 also will allow SpaceX to have a West Coast launch site for the Falcon Heavy rocket, which employs three Falcon 9 first-stage boosters strapped together to carry larger payloads into orbit.

He expects the first Falcon Heavy contract for Vandenberg in 2026.

Plans also call for adding two additional landing sites at Vandenberg, so all three boosters on a Falcon Heavy launch could return to Vandenberg.

“That’s what I’m looking forward to — I think that’s going to be pretty epic.”

SpaceX is one of several launch providers at Vandenberg. ULA, with its Atlas V and Delta IV boosters headed for retirement, is gearing up for the Vulcan rocket, which will liftoff from Space Launch Complex-3.

Firefly Aerospace also has sent rockets into space at Vandenberg. Additionally, military organizations conduct tests involving unarmed missiles and missile-defense systems from Vandenberg.

SpaceX currently has 300 employees, and has about 50 positions for all types of jobs open now. But that number could grow to about 500 by next year and 700-plus the following year. 

“The current manifest and the rates we’re achieving definitely require an increase in workforce,” Janzen said. 

In addition to jobs for local residents, rocket launches attract crew members and spectators who fill local hotels and eat at local restaurants.

“I think I speak for everyone in the room, and also the board and all of EconAliance, when I say thank you to Nate for what SpaceX has done,” said Phil Tabyanan, a member of EconAlliance’s executive committee and general manager of Plus Property Management. 

During the event, EconAlliance also recognized Solvang Theatrefest/PCPA with the Joint Innovation Award, Melfred Borzall with the Industry Innovation Award, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians with the Impact Award.

The organization, which was recognized last during the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting, marked 10 years of working behind the scenes.

“We aren’t always the ones who implement important programs, but we inspire a lot of thinking and analysis and understanding of industry and key issues for North County prosperity, so we think we play an important role in those regards,” said Victoria Conner, EconAlliance initiatives director and co-founder.

[06 Dec 2023] SpaceX Yearly Launch Rate at Vandenberg SFB Could Soar to 100 by 2025
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