Owner / Operator:
United States Air Force
112 m (369 ft)
Located on the United States west coast, the geography of Vandenberg Air Force Base makes it an ideal location to launch payloads into a polar orbit while avoiding any land mass between the launch site and Antarctica. Historic missions that have been launched from Vandenberg include the Mars InSight lander, the WISE space telescope, and NASA’s Aura and Aqua weather satellites. The base has also been used as a testing ground for a number of ballistic missiles.
Vandenberg Air Force Base was originally founded as the army base Camp Cooke in 1941 with the purchase 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres) of land along the California coast between Lompoc and Santa Maria. In the 1950s, with the proliferation of missile technology, an urgent need for missile development and training sites arose. Camp Cooke was selected as an ideal location due to its size, remote location, and the ability to launch over the Pacific Ocean avoiding flights over populated areas.
On June 21, 1951, 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) of the northern section of Camp Cooke was transferred to the Air Force by Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson. The new facility was named the Cooke Air Force Base. The base underwent extensive upgrades with older buildings being upgraded and new building being built.
Six years later in 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first manmade satellite, Sputnik 1. With the Soviets following up with Sputnik 2 just a month later, the United States military command pushed for an acceleration of the country’s missile programmes. Cooke Air Force Base became an important part of the country’s accelerated missile development. Several ballistic missiles would be developed and launched from the site towards the end of the 1950s.
In October 1958, Camp Cooke was renamed to Vandenberg Air Force Base to commemorate the Air Force’s second Chief of Staff, General Vandenberg.
Over the next 60 years, Vandenberg Air Force Base would play host to over 700 launches of both missiles and orbital space missions. Over the years several missile and vehicle types have been launched from the site including the Atlas, Titan, Minuteman, Peacekeeper missiles and the Delta II launch vehicle. Several space shuttle facilities were constructed at the base but after the Challenger disaster, plans to launch shuttles from Vandenberg were shelved.
Today, Vandenberg Air Force Base supports the SpaceX Falcon 9, and United Launch Alliance Delta IV and Atlas V launches. The base also maintains launch facilities and capabilities for the LGM-30G Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.