2021 is expected to be a busy year at Vandenberg Air Force Base, filled with burgeoning commercial partnerships.
That was the message shared Thursday during the 2021 State of Vandenberg Air Force Base address, held by the Santa Maria Valley and Lompoc Valley chambers of commerce.
During the virtual talk, Col. David Rickards of the 30th Space Wing reviewed 2020’s accomplishments, including the first commercial launch from the base.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, which will document sea levels, into orbit Nov. 21, 2020. Community members heard sonic booms that morning.
It was one of just five launches in 2020.
Col. Rickards listed 13 launches manifested for 2021, noting that the 2,000th launch from Vandenberg will likely happen this fall.
“It’s going to be a busy year,” he said. “It’s quite exciting to see our tempo increase.”
Firefly Aerospace, a commercial partner, should launch from the base this year, he said.
The 30th Space Wing began planning for a commercial space hub last year. It signed memorandums of understanding with REACH (Regional Economic Action Coalition of the Central Coast), Deloitte, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Cal Poly and Santa Barbara County to create a master plan.
“It establishes relationships; it doesn’t establish a timeline per se,” Col. Rickards said. “A lot of cooperation will have to come together.”
The public-private partnership will help establish the infrastructure needed for the project to get off the ground.
The 30th Space Wing is also planning a commercial solutions opening and pitch day May 26 with a “Shark-Tank-like panel” to hear proposals.
“Contracts may be awarded from those pitch-day commanders on the spot,” Col. Rickards said.
The event will be publicized by the end of the month.
While Vandenberg Air Force Base did not become the headquarters of the U.S. Space Command last year, officials see potential in another base opportunity this year.
The Space Training and Readiness Command, or STARCOM, is expected to be established in 2021. Col. Rickards said Vandenberg is a good candidate thanks to its large acreage.
The base became home to Space Delta 5 in July, inactivating the role as 614th Air Operations Center, and transferred to the Space Force in September.
The first members of the U.S. Space Force came to Vandenberg in 2020, and Col. Rickards estimated the Space Force will be 6,000 members strong by the end of 2021.
“The list is long for applications into the Space Force and transfers in,” he said.
He anticipates the Air Force will provide support to the new field.
Another accomplishment in 2020 is the opening of a STARBASE program on the base. It allows elementary school classes to visit and explore STEM applications.
“The goal no matter what is to motivate students of all ages to explore STEM education,” Col. Rickards said.
STARBASE staff are currently forming relationships with local schools.