Vandenberg Air Force Base Launches
(Download a higher resolution picture by clicking on any picture below.)
The COSMO-3 satellite was launched into polar orbit on a Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:28 and 12 seconds on the evening of Friday, October 24. In order to place it in the same orbital plane as the first two COSMOS-Skymed satellites, the launch window was only one second long. This time exposure captures the launch from ignition to burn out of the first stage main engine, 4 minutes 36 seconds after launch. The second stage is too faint to register in this image. I used two cameras with 18mm lenses to capture the launch from ignition through burnout of the first stage. The lights of the City of Buellton can be seen on the lower right. The planet Venus is the brightest astronomical object to the left of center. This picture was taken in the Santa Ynez Mountains about 35 miles east of the launch pad.
These are the launches illustrated on the page below. Click on a link to go directly to that launch.
Target Launch Vehicle launch, September 24, 2008
Delta-II/GeoEye 1 launch, September 6, 2008.
Delta II/Jason 2 launch, June 20, 2008.
Minuteman III, April 2, 2008.
Delta-II/COSMO-SkyMed mission, December 8, 2007.
Delta-II/Worldview-1 launch, September 18, 2007.
Minotaur, August 23, 2007.
Delta-II/COSMO-SkyMed launch, June 7, 2007
Delta II/NRO satellite Launch, December 14, 2006
Delta-IV/DMSP F17 launch from Vandenberg AFB, November 4, 2006
Delta-IV launch, June 27, 2006
Minuteman III launch, June 14, 2006
Delta II Launch, April 28, 2006
Minuteman III launch, February 16, 2006
The last Lockheed-Martin Titan IVB launch, October 19, 2005
Minotaur/Streak launch, September 22, 2005
Minuteman III, September 14, 2005
Minuteman III, September 7, 2005
Minuteman III, August 25, 2005
Minuteman III, July 21, 2005
Delta-II/NOAA-18, May 20, 2005
Minotaur, April 11, 2005
Minuteman III, September 15, 2004
Minuteman III, July 23, 2004
Peacekeeper Missile, July 21, 2004
Delta-II/AURA, July 15, 2004
Delta-II/Gravity probe-B, April 20, 2004
Atlas IIAS, National Reconnaissance Office payload, December 2, 2003
Minuteman III, September 10, 2003
Orbital Sciences Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, August 16, 2003
Pegasus XL/SCISat, August 12, 2003
Titan II/Coriolis, January 6, 2003
Minuteman II, October 14, 2002
Delta II/AQUA, May 4, 2002
Minuteman II, March 15, 2002
Delta II/Iridium, February 11, 2002
Orbital Sciences L-1011 Stargazer departs with Pegasus XL/HESSI, February 1, 2002
Delta II/Jason and TIMED, December 7, 2001
Delta II/Digital Globe Quickbird II, October 18, 2001
Minuteman II, July 14, 2001
Delta II/Earth Observing 1 and SAC-C, November 21, 2000
Titan IVB, August 17, 2000
Atlas IIAS/Terra, December 18, 1999
Titan II/DMSP, December 12, 1999
Titan IVB/NRO Satellite, May 22, 1999
LGM-118A Peacekeeper, March 10, 1999
Pegasus XL/WIRE, March 4, 1999
Delta II/Iridium, February 23, 1999
Minuteman III, February 12, 1999
Delta II/Iridium, February 18, 1998
Delta II/Iridium, December 20, 1997
Delta II/Iridium, November 8, 1997
Titan IV/NRO satellite, October 23, 1997
Delta II/Iridium, September 26, 1997
Athena/Lewis Earth Observation Satellite, August 22, 1997
Delta II/Iridium, August 20, 1997
Titan II/DMSP, April 4, 1997
A Target Launch Vehicle, a modified Minuteman ICBM, was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base at midnight on September 24, 2008 as the Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) satellite passed overhead off the coast of California. NFIRE imaged the rocket and its plume in infra-red for the Missile Defence Agency.
The Geoeye 1 satellite was launched into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Delta-II booster at 11:50:57 AM on Saturday, September 6, 2008.
The Jason 2 satellite was launched into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Delta-II rocket at 12:46 A.M. on Friday, June 20.
A sequence of thirty-second exposures of the Delta-II launch.
A Minuteman III missile was launched on a suborbital trajectory toward Kwajalein Atoll from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:01 A.M. on Wednesday, April 2.
You can buy a 2009 calendar featuring my photographs of rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
A dozen photos rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base:
Pegasus-XL/Wide-Field Infra-red Explorer (WIRE) March 4, 1999
Atlas-IIAS/Terra December 18, 1999
Delta II/Gravity Probe B, April 20, 2004
Minotaur/Streak September 22, 2005
Minuteman III, August 25, 2005
Titan IV/National Reconnaissance Office satellite, October 19, 2005
Delta-II/COSMO-SkyMed 2, December 8, 2007
Minuteman III, April 2, 2008
Target Launch Vehicle, September 24, 2008
Delta-II/GeoEye 1, September 6, 2008
Delta II/Jason 2, June 20, 2008
Delta II/COSMO-Skymed 3, October 24, 2008
Put a copy of the Rocket Launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base: 2009 Calendar in your Lulu.com shopping cart.
The second Italian COSMO-SkyMed mission was launched on a Delta-II booster at 6:31 PM PST on Saturday, December 8, 2007.
The Worldview-1 satellite was launched from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Delta-II rocket at 11:35 AM PDT on September 18, 2007.
A Minotaur rocket was launched from LF-06 at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:31 Am on Thursday, August 23, 2007.
The Italian COSMO-SkyMed mission was launched on a Delta-II booster at 7:34 PM PDT, the end of its thirteen minute launch window. The exhaust trail from the ascending rocket cast a shadow across the sky.
A classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite was launched into orbit from Space Launch Complex 2 West at Vandenberg Air Force Base by a Delta-II rocket at 1:00 PM PST Thursday, December 14. I will post more pictures shortly.
The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) F-17 Block 5D-3 spacecraft was lofted into orbit from Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6, pronounced slick six) by a Delta-IV rocket shortly before dawn, at 5:53 AM PST on Saturday, November 4, 2006.
The first Boeing Delta-IV rocket to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base lifted off at 8:33 P.M. PDT Tuesday, June 27. The launch was postponed to the end of the 19 minute launch window due to winds at the launch pad.
A Minuteman III missile was launched on a suborbital trajectory toward Kwajalein Atoll from LF-04 at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:22 A.M. on Wednesday, June 14. A nearly full moon illuminated the landscape during this 3-minute 10-second exposure.
The Cloudsat and CALIPSO satellites were launched into orbit by a Delta-II rocket at 3:02:16 AM PDT Friday April 28.
A Minuteman III missile was launched on a suborbital trajectory toward Kwajalein Atoll from LF-10 at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 12:01 A.M. on Thursday, February 16. The ascent of the missile was monitored by a crew aboard HALO II, a modified Gulfstream IIB with a large infra-red telescope.
The last Lockheed-Martin Titan IVB rocket launched a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload into orbit from Space Launch Complex 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 11:05 A.M. Thursday morning. Future large payloads will be launched from Space Launch Complex 6 on the Boeing Delta IV Heavy.
The Air Force STP-R1 Streak satellite was launched into polar orbit by a Minotaur rocket from Space launch Complex 8 at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:24 P.M. PDT on Thursday, September 22, 2005. The rocket climbed in to sunlight about 70 seconds after ignition of its first stage.
A Minuteman III missile was launched on a suborbital trajectory toward Kwajalein Atoll from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:01 A.M. on Wednesday, September 14. The launch was triggered by an Air Force launch team aboard a Boeing E-6 Mercury. The ascent of the missile was monitored by a crew aboard HALO II, a modified Gulfstream IIB with a large infra-red telescope.
A Minuteman III missile was launched on a suborbital trajectory toward Kwajalein Atoll from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:53 A.M. on Wednesday, September 7.
A Minuteman III missile was launched on a suborbital trajectory toward Kwajalein Atoll from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:01 A.M. on Thursday, August 25.
A Minuteman III missile was launched on a suborbital trajectory toward Kwajalein Atoll from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:01 A.M. on Thursday, July 21. The full moon illuminated the landscape and clouds during the 198-scond exposure.
The NOAA-18 satellite was launched from Space Launch Complex 2W at Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Delta II booster at 3:22 A.M. PDT, Friday May 20. The Santa Ynez Valley was shrouded in fog and the waxing gibbous moon was hanging over the western horizon. NOAA-18 will replace NOAA-16 later this summer.
The Air Force Research Laboratory launched its Experimental Satellite System-11 (XSS-11) satellite from Space Launch Complex 8 at Vendenberg Air Force Base at 6.35 A.M. PDT on April 11, 2005. The launch vehicle was a Minotaur, a rocket that is part Minuteman and part Orbital Sciences' Pegasus. The micro-satellite is intended to demonstrate autonomous inspection; rendezvous and docking; repositioning; and techniques for maneuvering around other satellites.
The Minotaur launch vehicle reached the desired orbit about 12 minutes after launch. The XSS-11 micro-satellite separated successfully from the booster and is functioning properly.
This animated .GIF illustrates the different launch trajectories of the Delta-II, Peacekeeper, and Minuteman III.
A Minuteman III missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base to the Reagan Test Range at Kwajalein Atoll very shortly after the beginning of the launch window at 1:01 A.M. on Wednesday, September 15.
A Minuteman III missile was launched on a suborbital trajectory toward Kwajalein Atoll from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:37 A.M. on Friday, July 23.
An LGM-118A Peacekeeper missile was launched on a suborbital trajectory toward Kwajalein Atoll from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:01 A.M. on Wednesday, July 21.
NASA's AURA satellite was launched from Vandenberg AFB on a Delta II booster at 3:02 A.M on Thursday, July 15.
The Gravity-B probe was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on April 20, 2004. It will verify whether the magnitude of warping of the space-time continuum caused by the rotation of the Earth is properly predicted by Einstein's General Thoery of Relativity.
The last Atlas II launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base was conducted at 2:04 in the morning on Tuesday, December 2. It carried a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload into polar orbit.
The slightly gibbous moon was setting in a clear sky while I drove to Lompoc in the early morning. It pointed straight down. Its light was reflected in the Santa Barbara Channel. A Highway Patrol car blocked the entrance to Jalama Beach Road, which was a good sign that preparations for the launch were still underway.
I arrived at a turnout in the hills north of Lompoc at 1:45 A.M., a little more than fifteen minutes before the launch. The lights of Lompoc illuminated a thin layer of medium-altitude clouds.
Powerful spotlights were directed at the Atlas IIAS rocket on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 3 East, about 8 miles away. The shafts of light pointed over Lompoc and down the Santa Ynez Valley.
The thin layer of clouds grew noticeably thicker in the minutes before the launch.
Shortly before T-minus-zero two brief flashes of light accompanied the ignition of the liquid fueled first stage. Right at zero the entire valley was suddenly illuminated by the brilliant glow of the four solid fuel boosters. At first the rocket rose slowly toward the cloud deck. It lit up the Lompoc Valley like an arc welder.
The rocket's flame cast bright circle of light on the bottom of the cloud deck. The circle of light grew larger as the rocket neared the clouds. The rocket pierced the clouds, which swallowed up its light. The circle of light on the base of the clouds shrank again as the Atlas raced upward.
The long, bright yellow flame appeared through a few gaps in the clouds as the first sound of the launch reached my position. Nothing beats a solid fuel rocket for basso profundo! Whammety bammety! Pow! Pow! Pow! Nobody remained asleep in Lompoc at 2:05 in the morning.
Another very high altitude cloud layer glowed brighter as the Atlas ascended toward it. The rocket's yellow flame dimmed and turned orange as the solid fuel boosters burned out. The liquid fueled core of the rocket was only dimly visible through the clouds as the sound of the rocket climbed into the sky behind it, gradually fading away like distant thunder.
Note the difference in the appearance of the photo made with negative film and the one made with positive film. The overexposed area on the positive film lacks detail where the film has become nearly transparent. There is still detail in the overexposed area on the negative film where the image is densest.
A task force from the 91st Space Wing, Minot AFB, N.D., launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from North Vandenberg as part of a flight test for Air Force Space Command's Force Development Evaluation Program at 4:31 a.m. Wednesday, September 10, 2003.
I was on the road just after 3:30 in the morning. The moon was completely full and close to Mars in the sky. Fog was streaming through the mountain passes from the Santa Ynez Valley.
The Santa Ynez Valley was obscured by clouds. I could not see the lights of the towns below, which made it difficult to orient myself. The sky overhead was mostly clear. The bright moonlight illuminated the landscape but did not provide any color. Mars was a bright red dot a short distance from the moon.
I pulled out a Nikon FE with a 28mm lens, put it on a tripod and attached a locking cable release. I pointed it in the direction of the Minuteman launch silos on Vandenberg AFB and locked open the shutter for a time exposure, just in case the launch happened when I wasn't looking.
I pulled out a second Nikon FE with a 28mm lens, put it on a tripod and attached a locking cable release. I pointed it in the direction of the Minuteman launch silos on Vandenberg AFB, but I did not begin an exposure. I planned to open the shutter on that camera when I saw the first light of the rocket launch.
I grabbed a coffee mug and a chair to wait for the launch. I hadn't quite unfolded the chair when I saw the light from the ignition of the Minuteman III shining through the fog deck.
I dropped the chair and moved to open the shutter on the second camera.
The brilliant yellow flame of the first stage rose slowly out of the mist and climbed in the direction of the moon. The flame accelerated and grew longer as it ascended. The star Deneb and other stars of the constellation Cygnus can be seen in the right half of the frame.
The first camera had already recorded a long time exposure of the moonlit landscape, long enough to overexpose the clouds in the valley. Note the longer star trails.
The flare of the ignition of the second stage was easy to recognize. The first stage could be seen tumbling, a flashing orange dot that grew dimmer and fell behind the ascending rocket. The rocket's flame flared a bit brighter several times as the Minuteman arced over toward the west. The first stage left a contrail that was dimly visible in the moonlight.
The apparent motion of the Minuteman slowed as it headed nearly directly away, toward Kwajalein Atoll. The light of the last stage dimmed while the rocket was still high above the western horizon. A short while later, the rumble of the rocket engine reached my shooting location. A deep booming resounded from overhead for several seconds.
The clock in the car read 4:38 when I turned on the ignition. That was the most prompt Minuteman launch I can recall.
As I rounded a corner on the south side of the mountain on the drive back down, I was presented with an expansive view of the clouds pouring through a mountain pass below me, shining brightly under the full moon. Moonlight sparkled on the surface of the water in the channel.
I noticed a cloud phenomenon I had not observed before. As the fog poured down the slope toward the shoreline, it started to evaporate. Near the bottom of the slope the airflow detached from the ground and lifted over the marine layer. As the air rose higher, puffy cumulus clouds condensed from the humid air.
An Orbital Sciences Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 11:00 A.M. on Saturday August 16, 2003. The bright flame of the rocket engine climbed out of the marine layer haze right at the beginning of the launch window.
It appeared to rise from the north end of the base, where the old Minuteman silos are located. It ascended on a completely different trajectory than I have photographed before. It accelerated very quickly and didn't arc over at all. It just headed up and slightly toward the south.
The transition to the second stage was clearly visible as the exhaust trail suddenly grew fainter.
The upper stages left no trail, but the rocket's flame and its expanding plume were visible against the dark sky. It burned out much higher in the sky than any other launch I have seen.
A few minutes after burnout, the sound of the ascending rocket reached my position in the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Santa Barbara. It was a faint rumble from high in the sky.
The Canadian Space Agency's SCISAT-1 (Scientific Satellite Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment) was launched at 7:09:33 P.M. on August 12. The launch trail appeared through the gap below the top layer of clouds right at 7:10.
The rocket passed directly in front of the sun. The upper stages left almost no exhaust trail. Just the flame of the rocket was visible, ascending toward the southern sky.
I set the alarm for 4:50 A.M. for the second day in a row on the morning of January 6 so I could drive to a good photography location for the launch of the Coriolis mission on a Titan II. The Coriolis mission is composed of Windsat and the Solar Mass Ejection Imager (SMEI).
The previous morning I had driven up to Harris Grade Road, north of Lompoc to photograph the launch, but it was scrubbed because high altitude winds might have carried debris into populated areas if it became necessary to destroy the rocket.
It was still dark as I drove out Highway 1 to Lompoc for the second launch attempt. I could see the floodlights at SLC-4W shining into the sky over the mountains. The earliest morning comuters from Lompoc were already driving toward Santa Barbara.
I drove around Lompoc and up the Harris Grade Road. A deer crossed the road in front of me. I slowed down and then had to brake hard to miss the second deer that trotted across the road. There were a few cars parked in the turnouts near the crest of the grade.
I parked on an empty turnout. The air was still and the temperature must have been in the sixties. It was very comfortable without a jacket or hat. I called the VAFB launch hotline (805 606-1857), but the launch announcement had not been updated. At least the launch hadn't been scrubbed yet.
I put a 28mm lens on one camera and my 400 mm telephoto on the other one. I could see the Titan II brightly illuminated on the launch pad about 8 miles away.
I took one picture through the telephoto, then set both shutters to B to shoot time exposures. I tuned the scanner to the range control frequency. It provided regular call outs of the time to launch. I listened as range control polled the various systems officers, each calling out "GO!" in turn. Finally, range control announced "Titan is GO!", five minutes before launch.
I grabbed the cable releases as range control counted down the last several seconds to launch. At T-1, I locked the shutters of both cameras open.
The sky was still dark as the brilliant flame appeared over the launch pad and at first it climbed relatively slowly for a rocket. After the Titan II cleared the pad, I closed the shutter on the telephoto.
The liquid fueled engines did not leave a visible trail until the rocket was a few miles up. The contrail started as a long straight line in the sky that quickly twisted into a zig-zag as the Titan continued its ascent.
The separation of the first stage and ignition of the second stage were clearly visible. A small puff of smoke remained suspended at the location where the staging had occurred.
As the upper stage arced over to the southern horizon, the discarded stages became visible trailing behind it. First there were two small lights trailing vapor, then a couple more, and finally there were five or six separate components. Each piece flashed periodically, leaving a trail of dots on the time exposure. It seemed as if there were too many pieces for a Titan II The trailing components may have been panels from the payload fairing.
The sky was brightening noticeably as the light from the rocket pieces faded and I closed the shutter on the wide angle. Note the cloud of condensed combustion products drifting in the high altitude breeze. This photo appears in the Gallery section of the May 2003 issue of Sky and Telescope Magazine.
Link to the U. S. Air Force fact sheet for the Titan II.
Link to the NRL Windsat home page.
Link to the University of Birmingham (SMEI) page.
A Minuteman II was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:01 PM on October 14, 2002 in support of the Missile Defense Agency's Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Program. It produced a vivid sunset effect.
The exhaust trail shape-shifted until the shadow of the earth extinguished its light source.
Link to the Midcourse Defense Segment page of the Missile Defense Agency
Link to the U. S. Air Force Minuteman III Fact Sheet.
Link to the Minuteman III Page of the Federation of American Scientists.
Link to the Minuteman III Page of the United States Space Command.
The AQUA spacecraft, part of NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS), was launched from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base by a Delta-II at 2:54 A.M. on May 4, 2002. This is a three frame composite time exposure taken from the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains about 35 miles from the launch pad.
Visit the Aqua Spacecraft web site.
A modified Minuteman II was launched from Vandenberg AFB at 6:15 PST on March 15, 2002 as part of the Orbital/Suborbital Program (OSP). Its exhaust trail was illuminated by the sun for a long while after sunset.
According to a Vandenberg press release, "The OSP, a modified Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile, carried a mock warhead and three balloon decoys. At about 6:36 p.m. PST, and about 4,800 miles away, a Payload Launch Vehicle missile carrying a prototype exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) interceptor launched from the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. At about 6:45 p.m. PST, the intercept took place at an altitude of approximately 140 miles above the central Pacific Ocean during the midcourse phase of the target warheads flight."
The bright colors are the result of sunlight refracting through crystals of solidified exhaust products.
A Boeing-McDonnell-Douglas Delta-II launched the another constellation of Iridium satellites from Vandenberg AFB at 9:44 A.M. P.S.T. on February 11, 2002.
The Orbital Sciences Corporation L-1011, Stargazer, carried the High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (HESSI) spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday February 1.
A Boeing-McDonnell-Douglas Delta-II launched the Jason and TIMED satellites from Vandenberg AFB at 7:07 A.M. P.S.T. on December 7, 2001.
The Digital Globe Quickbird II satellite was launched on a Delta-II-7320-10 at 11:51 on the morning of October 18, 2001.
A Minuteman-II was launched at 7:40 P.M. PDT on Saturday, July 14, 2001.
A Boeing Delta II rocket carrying NASAs Earth Observing 1 satellite and the Argentine Commission on Space Activities satellite, SAC-C, was launched Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 10:24 a.m. PST from Space Launch Complex-2. It is seen here from Harris Grade Road, ten miles to the east of the launch pad.
A Titan IVB was launched from Space Launch Complex 4 at 3:45 PM on Thursday, August 17.
An Atlas-IIAS carrying the Terra Satellite lifted off at 10:57 A.M. PST on Saturday December 18, 1999 from Space Launch Complex 3 East.
A Defense Department Meteorological Satellite was launched on a refurbished Titan II ICBM from SLC-4West at Vandenberg AFB at 9:38 A.M. on December 12, 1999. The top of the SLC-3W gantry can be seen at left. A row of Eucalyptus trees has been planted to obscure the view of the launch pads.
The first launch of a Titan IVB rocket from the west coast was conducted at 2:36 A.M. on the morning of May 22. This photo shows the Titan rising from Space Launch Complex 4 East. According to Aviation Week & Space Technology Magazine, the Titan placed a single large National Reconnaissance Organization satellite into orbit. The launch utilized a 50-foot long payload fairing, rather than the 56-foot and 66-foot long fairings of previous Air Force Titan IV launches. Four Titan IVB rockets have already been launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
An LGM-118A Peacekeeper missile was launched at 12:01 on the morning of March 10, 1999. In the foreground is the Santa Ynez Valley, obscured by clouds. The launch was conducted as part of the Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation Program used to obtain information about the missile's accuracy and reliability. The missile lofted eight unarmed re-entry vehicles 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Missile Range. It was selected at random from the missiles of F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
This exposure was made on Kodak Gold 1000 print film.
Link to the Peacekeeper Page of the Federation of American Scientists.
Link to the Peacekeeper Page of the Air Force Air University.
A Pegasus XL rocket was launched from Stargazer, the Orbital Sciences L-1011, at 6:56 P.M. on March 4, 1999. Its payload was the Wide-field Infra Red Explorer (WIRE) satellite.
After twelve aborted launch attempts, a Delta II was launched at 2:29 A.M. on February 23, 1999 from Space Launch Complex 2. It carried the ARGOS satellite and two piggyback payloads; The Danish Orsted satellite and the South African SUNSAT. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
Most of the aborts were the result of constraints on high altitude winds. If it becomes necessary to destroy the rocket and the winds aloft are blowing onshore too strongly, there is a risk that debris from the rocket might fall on land.
The first launch attempt on January 15 and six following attempts were aborted due to upper level wind constraints and otherwise poor weather. The seventh launch attempt on January 28 was cut short due to "automatic rocket engine safety interrupt". One of the multitude of sensors on the Delta detected a parameter that was outside of its allowable range and the populsion system was shut down. There is a good chance that this failure would have occured whenever the weather allowed the launch to progress to that point.
After three more delays due to upper level wind constraints, the launch attempt on February 13 encountered an electrical problem in the first stage of the booster.
Ten days later all systems were finally go for the Delta and its three satellites. I lost count, but I am pretty sure that I drove up to West Camino Cielo at 2:30 in the morning at least nine times to get this picture.
This image was assembled from three frames of Kodachrome 64. The trail ends where the upper stage of the Delta II disappeared behind a ridge to the south of my shooting position.
A Minuteman III was launched at 12:06 A.M. on the morning of February 12, 1999 as part of the Force Development Evaluation Program. Its suborbital trajectory carried a single unarmed re-entry vehicle 4,200 miles to Kwajalein Atoll. The Minuteman III was selected at random from the missiles of the 91st Space Wing, Minot Air Force Base, N.D.
Delta II launch at 5:58 on the morning of February 18 1998.
A cluster of Iridium telephone satellites was launched on a Delta II at 5:16 in the morning on Saturday, December 20, 1997. I drove up Refugio Road to West Camino Cielo under a half moon. There is a turnout about 2 miles above the intersection that provides an overview of the Santa Ynez Valley and Vandenberg AFB. There was no fog in the valley and the lights of Buellton and Lompoc shimmered below. There were a few thin layers of high clouds over the Pacific.
I arrived just about ten minutes before the launch and set up a pair of cameras with 28mm lenses and locking cable releases as the live version of Bodhisattva played on the cassette in the 4runner. I locked open the shutters of the cameras a couple of minutes before the scheduled launch to get a time exposure of the moonlit scenery. The Steely Dan tape ended just about the time that the light from the ignition of the first six Castor solid fuel boosters snapped on, and the far end of the valley lit up like daylight. An intense spot of light appeared on the clouds directly above the launch pad like a searchlight beam.
The dazzling orange light of the rocket's flame rose slowly straight up from the launch pad toward the clouds. The clouds glowed brighter as the rocket approached their altitude and started arching over to the south. The point of light started to stretch into a yellow line as the Delta accelerated. The first six solid fuel boosters burned out at an altitude of about twenty miles and the light from the rocket dimmed briefly.
The next three Castor boosters flared brightly and it seemed like the rate of acceleration increased perceptibly. A moment later little orange sparks could be seen flaring periodically below and behind the Delta as the six expended boosters tumbled away. They were still falling up to their maximum altitude.
The flame of the Delta continued to grow and took on a blue-white tinge at the top end, trailing into a long yellow-orange flame. The last three Castors burned out and the nature of the flame changed completely. The opaque long yellow flame was replaced by an incandescent blue-white point of light with a trail of transparent glowing blue plasma. Just about then the sound of the launch reached my location, rumbling like like distant, continuous thunder.
The last three Castors could be seen as orange sparks that flared periodically below the still accelerating liquid fueled core of the Delta. As the atmospheric pressure around the Delta decreased, the exhaust plume flared more broadly. When the engines cut off, the flame cut off suddenly, but the exhaust trail continued to glow for several seconds. The apparent source of the thundering sound moved across the sky, following the path taken by the Delta a minute earlier.
The exhaust trail had disappeared by the time that the thunder slowly faded into inaudiblity. I broke down the camera setup and put Close to the Edge into the cassette player for the ride down Refugio Road. A gray fox loped through my headlight beams as I cruised down the winding grade.
As dawn brightened the eastern horizon, the exhaust trail became visible again as a white winding track above orange lit stratus clouds.
The IRIDIUM satellites are part of a planned wireless telecommunications network designed to provide worldwide handheld telephone services. The 66-satellite network is scheduled to be operational in 1998. Thirty IRIDIUM satellites have now been launched from Vandenberg. This launch brings the number of IRIDIUM spacecraft in orbit to 46.
On the afternooon of Saturday November 8, 1997, I drove out to the fields west of Lompoc to watch the launch of a Delta II with a cluster of five Motorola Iridium satellites from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg AFB. The launch occurred just long enough after sunset that the Delta climbed into sunlight about the time that it reached the top of the atmosphere. This provided a rare opportunity to observe the exhaust of the rocket against a dark sky, without sunlight scattered from the intervening atmosphere.
A Titan IV rocket launched (according to Aviation Week) a Boeing manufactured reconnaissance satellite, designed and built by the National Reconnaissance Office, into polar orbit from Space Launch Complex 4 East on south Vandenberg at 7:32 p.m, on Thursday October 23, 1997. This photograph was taken from Goleta. Note how the path of the rocket appears more vertical than the other launches photographed from Goleta. The Titan could be seen to travel considerably farther east than the Deltas. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
A cluster of five Iridium communications satellites was launched on a Delta at 5:23 P.M. on Friday September 26, 1997 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The Lewis earth observation satellite was launched on an Athena (Lockheed-Martin Launch Vehicle) at 11:51 P.M. on Fruday August 22, 1997 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This is a time exposure of the launch. This photo was shot was from essentially the same place as the Delta launch. It can be seen that the Athena passed behind the trees that the Delta rose to the right of. Space Launch Complex 6, from which the Athena was launched is considerably to the south of the Delta launch facility. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
Link to the Athena Product Page of Lockheed-Martin Astronautics.
Five Iridium communications satellites were launched on a Delta at 5:38 P.M. on Wednesday August 20, 1997 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. It passed nearly directly in front of the sun from my vantage. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
A converted ICBM Titan II carrying a DMSP weather satellite was launched at 8:47 A.M., Friday, April 4, 1997, from SLC-4W at Vandenberg AFB. The Santa Ynez Valley was clouded over, so I backtracked up to West Camino Cielo Road near the old Reagan Ranch. The Titan II was already well off the ground before the contrail became visible. Unlike the solid fuel boosters of the Titan IV, the liquid fuel engines of the Titan II produce an almost invisible flame. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
Photographs of rocket and missile launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base from 1982 to 1996.
The Missile and Space Race by Alan J. Levine. Here is a history of the development of military missiles and space travel from World War II to the American visits to the Moon in 1969-1972. It stresses the relationship between the early stages of space exploration and the arms race, and that a dual path led to space flight. One was the development of unmanned long-range war rockets, the other, less often noted, was the rocket-powered research plane. The first path led through the intercontinental ballistic missile to the first artificial satellites and space capsule; the latter, more uniquely American, through the X-series and Skyrocket rocket planes to the X-15, and ultimately to the Space Shuttle. The early part of the book focuses on the Soviet-American race to develop the ICBM in the 1950s, and the first satellites, with particular attention paid to the events and reactions that followed the flight of Sputnik I in 1957 and the subsequent missile gap era.
Link to the home page of the 30th Space Wing
Call the Vandenberg Air Force Base Launch Hotline at (805) 606-1857 for current launch schedule information.
The So Cal Sky Lights web site has rocket launches and other sky phenomena.
Link to the NASA rocket launch manifest
For national and international space coverage visit SPACE.com
Brian Webb's Rawhide Space Page provides launch schedule and ham radio information.
Send a message to Brian.
Go to home page of the Goleta Air and Space Museum.