Chair Force Engineer

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Vandy's not so handy

The status of SpaceX at Vandenberg Air Force Base is questionable, thanks in large part to the construction of an Atlas 5 pad at SLC-3 East. SpaceX had originally planned on near-polar flights of Falcon I from the neighboring SLC-3 West, and had built a pad there for that purpose.

If SpaceX can successfully launch a Falcon I from Kwajelein Atoll, it would seem like Vandenberg would become redundant. Vandenberg's prime advantage is the ability to launch into polar and retrograde orbits. Kwajalein can probably handle most of the trajectories that could be flown from either Vandenberg or from Cape Canaveral, due to its remote location. Vandenberg also has its fair share of baggage, like the environmental impact fees changed by the People's Republic of California because of damage to aquatic mammals caused by rocket launches.

It doesn't seem like there is any benefit for SpaceX to build up facilities at Vandenberg. Similarly, SpaceX really doesn't need Cape Canaveral, as long as it can build up its facilities at Kwajalein to handle the bigger Falcon IX and the Dragon manned capsule. As Elon once said, Omelek Island is "The Island of Dr. Yes."

If Omelek is too size-constrained for the Falcon IX and Dragon programs, the Cape is back on the table. And SpaceX would be wise to make this determination soon. If they want to reuse the old Titan IV launch pad for the Falcon IX, they will have to snatch it up before NASA tries converting it to a launch pad for The Stick (one of many options currently being considered.)