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Vandenberg Air Force Base

Vandenberg Air Force Base (IATA: VBG, ICAO: KVBG, FAA LID: VBG) is a United States military installation with a spaceport, in Santa Barbara County, California, United States. It is also a census-designated place (CDP) with a population of 6,151 as of the 2000 census. The base is named in honor of former Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.

Vandenberg is home to the 14th Air Force, 30th Space Wing, 381st Training Group, and the Western Launch and Test Range (WLTR), and is responsible for satellite launches for military and commercial organizations, as well as testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles, including the Minuteman III ICBMs. Vandenberg is assuming new roles with the creation of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space (JFCC SPACE).

Part of Air Force Space Command (AFSPC)

15 September 1994

30th Space Wing emblem


The base, nicknamed "VandyLand" by Air Force personnel, was originally established in 1941 as the US Army's Camp Cooke. The facility served as a training center for armored and infantry troops through World War II and again in the Korean War.

The base was transferred to the US Air Force in 1957 and began its transformation into a space and ballistic missile test facility. One year later, Cooke Air Force base was renamed in honor of General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the second chief of staff of the Air Force, who was an early advocate of space and missile operations.

Between March 1, 1966 and December 20, 1968, the Air Force also purchased approximately 15,000 acres from the Sudden Ranch property, located south of the installation's original boundaries through the law of eminent domain. This acquisition enlarged the base to its current 98,000 acres of which only 15% is developed. Its relatively remote location and proximity to the coast offers an excellent location to safely conduct test firings of strategic missile weapon systems (Atlas, Titan I, Titan II, Minuteman I/II/III and Peacekeepers) as well as launch satellites into polar orbit without overflying populated areas after liftoff.

On December 16, 1958, Vandenberg AFB launched the first Thor ballistic missile. Vandenberg boosted the world's first polar-orbiting satellite, Discoverer 1, aboard a Thor Agena booster combination on February 28, 1959. (The Discoverer 1 mission was used as a cover for the clandestine CIA Corona program.) Both launches occurred from Space Launch Complex 10, which has since been preserved and maintained as an example of a 1950s era launch complex technology. SLC-10 is also classified as a National Historic Landmark.

Vandenberg is still the only military installation in the United States that launches unmanned government and commercial satellites into polar orbit. It is also the only site from which ICBMs are launched toward the Kwajalein Atoll to verify weapon system performance.

The base is operated by Air Force Space Command's (AFSPC) 30th Space Wing.

Space Shuttle

In 1972, Vandenberg was selected as the West Coast Space Shuttle launch and landing site, but it has never been used as such.

Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6, pronounced as "Slick Six"), originally built for the abandoned Manned Orbital Laboratory project, was extensively modified for shuttle operations. Over $4 billion was spent on the new space shuttle modifications. The original Mobile Service Tower (MST) was lowered in height and two new flame ducts were added for the shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters. Additional modifications or improvements included liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen storage tanks, a payload preparation room, payload changeout room, a new launch tower with escape system for the shuttle crewmembers, sound suppression system and water reclamation area and a Shuttle Assembly Building were added to the original complex.

Additionally, the existing 8,500 foot runway and overruns on the North Base flightline were lengthened to 15,000 feet to accommodate end-of-mission landings. Turn-around servicing and refurbishing of the orbiter would be accomplished in the adjacent Orbiter Maintenance and Processing Facility (OMPF).

Modification of SLC-6 to support polar missions had been problematic and expensive. SLC-6 was still being prepared for its first Shuttle launch, mission STS-62-A targeted for October 15, 1986, when the Challenger disaster grounded the Shuttle fleet and set in motion a chain of events that finally led to the decision to cancel all West Coast Shuttle launches.

Had the space shuttle program been successful at SLC-6, the West Coast operation would have contrasted with that at the Kennedy Space Center by creating the orbiter stack directly on the launch pad, rather than assembling it and then moving it. Three movable buildings on rails, the Launch Tower, Mobile Service Building and Payload Changeout Room were used to assemble the Shuttle orbiter, external tank and SRBs. These buildings were designed to protect the shuttle "stack" from high winds in the area and were used during a series of "fit tests" utilizing the space shuttle Enterprise in 1985.

Boeing Delta IV Medium+ (4,2) lifts off from Space Launch Complex Six (SLC-6) at Vandenberg AFB

Delta IV

Since the demise of the shuttle program at Vandenberg, SLC-6 has once again been reconfigured, this time to support polar-orbit satellite launches by the new Delta IV family of launch vehicles, utilizing a Common Core Booster for class sizes all the way up to and including the Delta IV (Heavy) launcher. As it is currently configured, the 132 acre launch site features structures similar to Boeing's Delta IV SLC-37 launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, with a Fixed Umbilical Tower, Mobile Service Tower, Fixed Pad Erector, Launch Control Center and Operations Building, and a Horizontal Integration Facility. SLC-6 also features a Mobile Assembly Shelter that protects the rocket from adverse weather.

The first of the Delta IV launch vehicles to fly from SLC-6 successfully lifted off at 8:33 p.m. PDT on June 27, 2006 when a Delta IV Medium+ (4,2) rocket lofted NROL-22, a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, into orbit. The payload was successfully deployed approximately 54 minutes later.

Thor Agena D with SERT-2 satellite at Space Launch Complex 10 at Vandenberg AFB

Space and Missile Heritage Center

The Space and Missile Heritage Center preserves and displays artifacts and memorabilia to interpret the evolution of missile and spacelift activity at Vandenberg from the beginning of the Cold War through current non-classified developments in military, commercial, and scientific space endeavors.

The initial display area is made up of two exhibits, the "Chronology of the Cold War" and the "Evolution of Technology". The exhibits incorporate a combination of launch complex models, launch consoles, rocket engines, re-entry vehicles, audiovisual and computer displays as well as hands-on interaction where appropriate. The Center will evolve in stages from these initial exhibit areas as restorations of additional facilities are completed.

The Center is located at Space Launch Complex 10, site of the first IRBM tests of the Thor and Discoverer (aka Corona spy satellite) series of launches. It is Vandenberg's only National Historic Landmark that is open for regularly scheduled tours through the 30th Space Wing's Public Affairs office.


Vandenberg's location on the northern Pacific Ocean makes it possible to easily launch satellites into polar orbit, unlike the Kennedy Space Center. This, along with its location relative to the jet stream, makes Vandenberg a good site to launch reconnaissance satellites.

Vandenberg is also used for the launch of non-military satellites into polar orbits. The space probe "Clementine" was also launched there, using a "recycled" Titan II ICBM.

A Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) weather satellite undergoes a systems checkout prior to transport and mating to a Titan II at Vandenberg AFB.

A Boeing Delta II launch from Space Launch Complex 2 (SLC-2) at Vandenberg AFB

A LGM-30 Minuteman III takes off from Vandenberg AFB


Vandenberg AFB is located at 3443'47.43N, 12034'31.33W.

Much of the base is rugged, mountainous, and undeveloped; predominant groundcover includes chaparral with coastal sage scrub and oak woodland. Because of its protected nature — none of the backcountry areas are open to the public or to any kind of development — the base contains some of the highest quality coastal habitat remaining in southern or central California and is home to numerous threatened or endangered species. The western terminus of the Santa Ynez Mountains is on the base, and is dominated by Tranquillion Peak, which rises 2,297 ft (700 m) above sea level. An optical tracking station is located at the top of the peak, which overlooks the various space launch complexes.


As of the census of 2000, there were 6,151 people, 1,707 households, and 1,601 families residing in the base. The population density was 278.8/mi2. There were 1,992 housing units at an average density of 90.3/mi2. The racial makeup of the base was 72.26% White, 11.74% African American, 0.54% Native American, 3.90% Asian, 0.65% Pacific Islander, 4.96% from other races, and 5.95% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 11.10% of the population.

There are 1,707 households, out of which 71.8% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 87.2% were married couples living together, 3.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 6.2% were non-families. 5.4% of all households were made up of individuals and none had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.33 and the average family size was 3.44.

In the base, the population was spread out with 38.0% under the age of 18, 15.2% from 18 to 24, 44.7% from 25 to 44, 1.9% from 45 to 64, and 0.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 24 years. For every 100 females there were 109.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 116.2 males.

The median income for a household in the base was $39,444, and the median income for a family was $40,000. Males had a median income of $27,352 versus $22,283 for females. The per capita income for the base was $13,570. About 6.0% of families and 7.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.4% of those under age 18 and none of those age 65 or over.

Vandenberg supports a population greater than 18,000 composed of military, family members, government contractors, and civilian employees.

The majority of the workforce that doesn't live on base resides in the immediate northern Santa Barbara county communities of Lompoc, Vandenberg Village, Santa Ynez, Orcutt or Santa Maria. A small percentage commute from as far south as Santa Barbara and Isla Vista to as far north as the Five Cities area near San Luis Obispo, which are all roughly an hour's drive along U.S. Route 101 and State Route 1 to the base's five access gates.

The base's ZIP code is 93437 and its area code 805.


In the state legislature Vandenberg AFB is located in the 19th Senate District, represented by Republican Tony Strickland, and in the 33rd Assembly District, represented by Republican Sam Blakeslee. Federally, Vandenberg AFB is located in California's 24th congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of R +5 and is represented by Republican Elton Gallegly.

Launch sites

Space Launch Complex 1, inactive, Thor
Space Launch Complex 2, active, Delta II, previously Thor, Delta
Space Launch Complex 3-East, active, Atlas V, previously Atlas II and Atlas
Space Launch Complex 3-West, active, Falcon 1, previously Atlas, Thor
Space Launch Complex 4-East, inactive, Titan IV, Titan III
Space Launch Complex 4-West, inactive, Titan II, Titan IIIB
Space Launch Complex 5, inactive Scout
Space Launch Complex 6, active, Delta IV, previously Athena, Shuttle (unused), Titan III (unused)
Space Launch Complex 8, active, Minotaur.
Space Launch Complex 10, inactive, Thor ( a National Historic Landmark)
Space Launch Complex 576-E, active, Taurus (rocket).

Vandenberg Tracking Station

The Vandenberg Tracking Station is a satellite ground station located at VAFB and operated by Detachment 1 of the 22d Space Operations Squadron of the 50th Space Wing. The 35-year old antenna and associated electronics at the station were recently upgraded in a $60 million modernization effort.

In popular fiction

Vandenberg Air Force Base appears in the 2000 computer role-playing game Deus Ex. Set in the near future of 2052, in the game the Base is occupied by scientists after it was abandoned due to the effects of an earthquake.


This page was last updated July 19, 2009.