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25 years, still going strong

The 30th Space Wing has been through a lot of changes in its quarter century, the overall launch tempo has slowed and the lease of the Space Launch Complexes to commercial entities has altered how the wing conducts business, but one of the constants has always been assured access to space. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Fiona Kilfoyle)

The 30th Space Wing has been through a lot of changes in its quarter century, the overall launch tempo has slowed and the lease of the Space Launch Complexes to commercial entities has altered how the wing conducts business, but one of the constants has always been assured access to space. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Fiona Kilfoyle)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

During a period of massive restructuring across the Air Force, the 30th Space Wing was born 25 years ago, Nov. 19, 1991.

The 30th Space Wing has been through a lot of changes in its quarter century, the overall launch tempo has slowed and the lease of the Space Launch Complexes to commercial entities has altered how the wing conducts business, but one of the constants has always been assured access to space.

“Now that the 30th Space Wing is the host base we are basically the landlord,” said Greg Caresio, 30th Space Wing program requirements chief. “We provide the services, the range, the facilities, the agreements and we manage the money, but we don’t have that launch mission like we did. We used to own many of the rockets, and now we don’t. We would sign a hand receipt and say, ‘that rocket is now mine’, but we don’t buy the rocket anymore, we buy the service. Now, most come as a commercial vehicle entity. We have leased much of the launch property out, all the launch pads and the facilities that the contractors use. The huge benefit is that the base isn’t responsible for much of the cost for the operations and maintenance for the leased facilities.”  

From an outside perspective, Vandenberg operates in much the same way it always has, with the changes being refinements to the launch process, as well as the addition of more tenant units. 

“Out here the mission really hasn’t changed,” said Jay Prichard, 30th Space Wing Vandenberg Space and Technology Center director. “We have been doing essentially the same thing on Vandenberg since the beginning. Training the ICBM crews, testing the ICBM fleet, and launching vehicles into polar orbit. Some of the larger changes in the last 25 years are the addition of the Joint Space Operations Center and also the 14th Air Force having headquarters here. The wing is also supporting all the infrastructure requirements for the JSpOC as well as the command support requirements for hosting a numbered Air Force. That is another level of wing responsibility that didn’t exist before.” 

Previously part of every step along the way – from bringing the rocket to Vandenberg, mounting the payload and ultimately launching it – the wing is now less ‘hands-on’.

“There was a philosophical change during the early days of the wing as well,” said Bill Prenot, 30th Space Wing director of plans and programs. “Launch was intensely governmental, with military and government oversight over the entire process, to include the buildup and the launch. The new philosophy was ‘we will buy it on orbit’, which is to say the contractor would launch the payload and when it is delivered on orbit space we would will pay. That philosophical change started in the late nineties and was supposed to lead to the shutdown of space launch squadrons on both coasts. However after a few satellites were put into sub-oceanic orbit, the government did a broad are review of spacelift and decided we needed more oversight.”

Although the wing doesn’t own the rockets it launches anymore, it is still as much part of the launch team as it always was, filling the support and oversight role to maintain assured access to space.

“The government identified the critical steps which must be observed in order to ensure mission assurance,” said Prenot. “Rather than having the space launch squadrons die off, they instead modified their role to remain actively engaged. We never fully achieved the concept of ‘buy it on orbit’. We still have many military members and civilians involved in the mission assurance process.”