Science & Technology



SpaceX is launching more rockets from a military base. Can the Coastal Commission impose a limit?

Salvador Hernandez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

LOS ANGELES — SpaceX has significantly increased the frequency of its rocket launches from a Santa Barbara County military base, and its plans to add even more have raised concerns by the California Coastal Commission over the impacts on the environment and nearby communities.

The company, officially Space Exploration Technologies Corp., owned by billionaire Elon Musk, has already breached an agreement between base officials and the coastal commission that limited the yearly launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base to six.

SpaceX has asked the commission for permission to launch up to 36 times per year from Vandenberg, as well as to conduct up to 12 landings a year at a second launch complex and an offshore landing spot in the Pacific Ocean.

Visible for miles around, the launches can create awe-inspiring spectacles as the aircraft hurtle up through the atmosphere, leaving behind a streak tracing the path of the rocket.

But nearer the base, the launches can force the closure and evacuation of nearby beaches and campgrounds, and residents have reported their windows shaking and rattling from the apparent sonic booms.

"It's very stressful when you experience something like a sonic boom and you're not expecting it," said Phil Simon, a resident of Ojai for 25 years who spoke to the commission Wednesday. "I don't know if the rockets being launched are different now, the trajectory is different, but something is different than how it was in the past."


The California Coastal Commission reviewed on Wednesday the request from the U.S. Space Force on behalf of the SpaceX projects and heard concerns from residents about the proposed increase in the number of launches. The panel also questioned whether the commission should practice more oversight over the launches.

But whether the commission even has the authority to limit the launches is unclear.

"We don't allow roosters in this city, why can't we regulate SpaceX?" Larry Steingold, an Ojai resident, asked the board.

Tasked with protecting the state's coastal resources, the state agency regulates the use of land and water along the coast and can issue, or deny, permits for development. When it comes to imposing its will over federal agencies —such as the U.S. Department of Defense — the commission's powers stop short.


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