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Vandenberg AFB to launch Delta IV Heavy rocket next week

By KAYTLYN LESLIE | The Tribune | Published: April 20, 2021

VANDENBERG AFB, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Vandenberg Air Force Base has officially confirmed a rocket will launch from the Central Coast military base next week.

According to a news release, United Launch Alliance will launch its Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload on Monday.

The rocket — which has flown over Central Coast skies three times before, most recently in January 2019 — will take off from Space Launch Complex-6 sometime around noon.

"Our tremendous partnership with United Launch Alliance and the National Reconnaissance Office is driven by our collective dedication to mission success," 30th Space Wing Commander Col. Anthony Mastalir said. "We are proud of our ability to provide assured access to space and look forward to showcasing this national capability for heavy lift on the Western Range in support of the NRO."

On March 17, ULA successfully completed a so-called "wet dress rehearsal" of the upcoming launch at its Vandenberg launch pad. The rehearsal ran through "the intricate day-of-launch countdown activities for the national security mission coming up later this spring," according to a ULA blog post.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a popular public viewing area at Vandenberg Air Force Base known as the "Hawk's Nest" didn't open for a rocket launch in November, and it is unclear if officials will reopen the site for the new launch.

A request for comment from Vandenberg officials was not immediately returned Monday evening.

Launches at the Central Coast military base often draw larger crowds to the Lompoc area, packing both official viewing areas such as the Hawk's Nest and unofficial viewing areas.

During pre-pandemic launches from the base, cars lined up along Ocean Avenue, also known as Highway 246, with hundreds of spectators sitting on top of their vehicles or on the side of the road waiting for the fiery spectacle to come shooting over the hills.

Other popular viewing sites include spots along Firefighter, Harris Grade and Santa Lucia roads.

Meanwhile, aerospace newcomer Firefly is getting closer to the maiden launch of its Alpha rocket.

The aerospace company, which took over ULA's retired Delta II facilities at Vandenberg, initially intended to launch its Alpha rocket in 2020, but setbacks delayed the launch to this spring.

The company more recently indicated it was planning for an April launch, but a specific date has not yet been confirmed.

On April 12, the company fully installed and rotated its Alpha rocket to vertical position at its Vandenberg launch pad. At that time, Firefly said they would soon be performing a static fire test prior to its inaugural launch.

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