ULA’s Delta 4 prepares for final West Coast launch as Vandenberg seeks new tenants

After finishing the NROL-91 mission, ULA will begin vacating SLC-6 and consolidate operations at SLC-3

WASHINGTON — A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket is scheduled to launch a Nationwide Reconnaissance Workplace mission Sept. 24 from House Launch Advanced-6 at Vandenberg House Pressure Base, California.

This will probably be Delta 4’s last launch from the West Coast. ULA is underneath contract to launch two extra missions on the Delta 4 Heavy in 2023 and 2024, however will fly these from Cape Canaveral, Florida, after which the car will probably be retired.

The launch of NROL-91 marks the tip of an period, Col. Chad Davis, the NRO’s director of the Workplace of House Launch, instructed reporters Sept. 22. “I feel bittersweet is completely the fitting phrase to make use of with that.”

After finishing the NROL-91 mission, ULA plans to begin vacating the pad, often known as House Launch Advanced-6. The corporate’s future car, Vulcan Centaur, will launch from Vandenberg’s House Launch Advanced-3, from which ULA presently flies its Atlas 5 rocket.  

Throughout a name with reporters, Col. Bryan Titus, vice commander for House Launch Delta 30 at Vandenberg, mentioned vary officers are in energetic discussions with launch corporations to attempt to get a brand new tenant for SLC-6. 

House Launch Delta 30 is the House Pressure unit that operates the Vandenberg vary. 

“I’m pretty assured that it is going to be utilized,” Titus mentioned of SLC-6. He declined to call any potential tenants. 

Most launches at Vandenberg at present are carried out by SpaceX, which leases Space Launch Complex-4 for launches and booster landings.

Titus famous SLC-6’s storied previous. It was initially constructed within the Sixties to launch the Air Pressure’s never-flown Manned Orbital Laboratory, and repurposed within the Eighties as a devoted launch and touchdown web site for navy house shuttle missions. After the 1986 House Shuttle Challenger catastrophe, the Air Pressure mothballed the location with out ever conducting a West Coast shuttle launch. It reactivated the location within the Nineties for a handful of Lockheed Martin Athena launches and finally turned it over to the Delta 4 program. SLC-6’s runway has been used to land the Air Pressure’s X-37B reusable spaceplane.

Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman reportedly thought of understanding an association with ULA to make use of SLC-6 to launch nationwide safety missions had they been chosen for the Nationwide Safety House Launch Section 2 contract. However each have been edged out by ULA and SpaceX in August 2020. 

The pad “has had many lives,” mentioned Titus. “I feel everybody at Vandenberg has a heat spot of their hearts for that place, and we’re going to verify it’s continued to be utilized, however we don’t know precisely how,” he added. “There are lots of different launch service suppliers on the market that would discover utility in that location. There’s a whole lot of infrastructure there.”

Gary Wentz, ULA’s vp of presidency and industrial applications, mentioned the corporate is making ready for Atlas 5’s last West Coast launch from SLC-3 scheduled for November 1. That would be the Joint Polar Satellite tv for pc System 2 polar-orbiting climate satellite tv for pc, developed by NASA and the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

After that mission is accomplished, SLC-3 will probably be outfitted with new gear in preparation for Vulcan, which is projected to begin flying in 2023.

He mentioned ULA didn’t see a must maintain two launch pads on the West Coast. “From a enterprise perspective, it was acceptable for us to make use of SLC-3 as a result of there was a whole lot of commonality between Atlas and Vulcan techniques.”

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