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SpaceX plans to launch 90 rockets from Vandenberg Space Force Base by 2026. Could that harm the coast?

Salvador Hernandez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

LOS ANGELES - SpaceX plans to launch 90 rockets into space from a Santa Barbara County military base by 2026, tripling the number of blasts rocking the coastal community — and raising concerns from neighbors and environmental groups about the effects on marine life.

Owned by billionaire Elon Musk, SpaceX has ramped up the number of rocket launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base in recent years, and it has made clear its desire to increase the frequency of blasts-offs. But during a California Coastal Commission hearing Friday, U.S. Space Force officials outlined for the first time its own plans to multiply the number of launches from the base, from 37 in 2023 to more than 120 a year by 2026.

The overwhelming majority of those rocket blasts would be conducted by SpaceX, which has already done more launches from the base than the commission has approved.

Last year SpaceX breached an agreement with the commission that limited the number of launches to six, sending 28 rockets into space. It is currently seeking an agreement with the commission to do 36 launches a year, increasing to 90 in 2026.

The decision by the commission, which is tasked with protecting the state's coastal resources, will directly affect residents and marine life near the military base that hear and feel the rockets' sonic booms. It could also redirect the future of SpaceX, whose pursuit to redefine space exploration is already closely tied with U.S. military interests, given its work as a military contractor.

"The ultimate goal is for this to be more routine and not a huge deal," said Space Force Col. Bryan Titus, operations vice commander at the base.

 

Formed in 2019, the U.S. Space Force has been looking to improve its ability to send rockets into space, Titus said, so SpaceX's ability to launch with more frequency is a benefit to the U.S. military.

SpaceX launched 96 rockets in 2023 from Vandenberg and three other facilities: Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida, and SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas.

Environmental groups argue that turning launches into a routine event could affect marine life.

"We're concerned that more frequent launches will result in permanent changes," said Ana Citrin, legal and policy director for the Gaviota Coast Conservancy.

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