Spaceflight Insider

Nearby wildfire prompts delay in Atlas V launch

Vandenberg wildfire postpones Atlas V launch

A specially designed DC-10 aircraft releases fire retardant on the canyon blaze in Vandenberg Air Force Base. The fire prompted a launch delay of the Atlas V rocket carrying the WorldView-4 satellite. Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider

LOMPOC, Calif. — The planned Sept. 18 flight of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket with the WorldView-4 satellite has been postponed due to a wildfire burning on Vandenberg Air Force Base south of the launch site – Space Launch Complex 3E. The delay should allow firefighters to remain in the area to try to put out the fire.

“Our procedures require stand-by firefighting crews for every launch to ensure [the] safety of our personnel and facility protection,” said Col. Paul Nosek, Emergency Operations Center commander. “We’ve delayed the launch in order to concentrate our resources on the situation at hand.”

Today’s launch, which was already delayed 48 hours due to a ground-side liquid hydrogen line leak, was planned for 11:30 a.m. PDT (2:30 p.m. EDT; 18:30 GMT). It has now been rescheduled for no earlier than Monday, Sept. 26, due to availability on the Western Range – which provides tracking, communication and safety services for Vandenberg activities.

When it does launch, it will be the 66th flight of an Atlas V rocket and the 33rd in the base “401” – 4-meter payload fairing, zero strap-on solid rocket motors, and a single engine Centaur upper stage  – configuration.

As for the wildfire, the 30th Space Wing said no facilities have been damaged by the blaze, located in a remote canyon between Arguello and Santa Ynez Roads. Additionally, Nosek noted that none of the Base’s space launch complexes or critical range assets are in immediate danger. However, some power lines have been damaged by the fire, according to the U.S. Air Force.

In an update, the 30th Space Wing said nearly 800 Vandenberg, U.S. Forestry Service, CalFire, and Santa Barbara County firefighters are on hand to battle the nearly 500-acre wildfire.

“The teamwork exhibited between the Santa Barbara County, CalFire, U.S. Forestry Service and Air Force firefighters is why we have been as successful as we have been fighting this blaze,” said Lt. Col. Edward Simpson, Emergency Operations Center director. “We are grateful to have their support.”

Huge plumes of smoke rise up from the area surrounding Vandenberg Air Force Base. These were caused by wildfires in the area. Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider

Huge plumes of smoke were clearly visible miles outside of VAFB. Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider

10 Tanker Air Carrier above Vandenberg Air Force Base photo credit Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider

An air tanker above VAFB on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider

Wildfire in Vandenberg

Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider



Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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