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Space Launch Complex 10

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1958, U.S. Air Force; Douglas Air Craft Company, contractor. Northwest of Spur Rd.

Space Launch Complex 10 (SLC-10) at Vandenberg Air Force Base is part of the Western Space and Missile Center of the Air Force. SLC-10 is one of two launch pads built by the Douglas Aircraft Company to support combat training launches for the THOR Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles in 1958. The complex consists of a blockhouse, three launch pads, technical support buildings, and shared facilities over 138 acres. Sometimes known as Missile Launch Complex 10, SLC-10 is located 9 miles outside of Lompoc in Santa Barbara County, just off State Highway 1 approximately 50 miles northwest of the city of Santa Barbara. At the time of its construction during the Cold War, the entire complex was devoted to support the launch of THOR missiles. The Space Launch Complex 10’s West Pad is the best surviving example of a launch complex built in the 1950s. The final launch at SLC-10 was on July 15, 1980.

The Air Force’s history at the site began during World War II, when the site was still known as Camp Cooke and used as a training facility. It was deactivated after the Korean War but the military regained interest shortly thereafter. In 1957 the Secretary of Defense directed the Army to transfer 65,000 acres of Camp Cooke to the Air Force. The renamed Cooke Air Force Base had its primary mission to provide training for ballistic miles units and operational weapon systems testing, but the site was also charged with supporting space launches. As opposed to Cape Canaveral in Florida, Camp Cooke offered isolation and remoteness, while also providing large amounts of land, good weather, and proximity to Southern California’s existing aerospace industry and military infrastructure. The site was also the only location in the United States that provided a direct and safe flight path for polar-orbiting satellites.

The groundbreaking of the new missile center began in 1957, and at some point in the next year Cooke was again renamed, this time after General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the second Chief of Staff of the Air Force, who had died in 1954. In January 1958 the Army Corps of Engineers and Douglas Aircraft Company began construction of seven launch pads and three blockhouses for the THOR missile at Vandenberg, including SLC-10, originally designated Complex 75-2. By October 1958 the site was completed and turned over to the Air Force. SLC-10 was located to the north of several other launch complexes at the intersection of Aero Road and Porto Road near Purisima Point. The buildings developed over time as mission requirements expanded.

The East Blockhouse, also known as the Launch Control Center or the Launch Operations Building, served as the main control center for SLC-10. In 1959, the one-story, 1,600-square foot, T-shaped East Blockhouse was completed and operated by the 392nd Missile Training Squadron as the operations and communications control center for launch activities on the East Pad. The blockhouse is of “hardened” construction designed to protect technicians, instrumentation, and sensitive equipment from the launch blast, toxic gases, and the shock of an exploding rocket. The foundations, floor, exterior walls, and the center wall shared with the west blockhouse are all constructed of reinforced concrete. The roof consists of layers of reinforcing steel embedded in high strength concrete.

The blockhouse’s interior consisted of four rooms including a control room for equipment for missions and a communications room that served as a hub for the entire complex and a central corridor. In response to advances in technology, in 1962 the blockhouse was modified and enlarged by a wood-frame penthouse that was bolted to the roof.

The West Blockhouse was constructed in 1964 to house the 4300th Support Squadron and the operations and communication control center for launch activities on the West Pad. It was also of “hardened” construction with reinforced concrete foundation and floor, including a shared center wall with the East Blockhouse. Although attached to each other, each blockhouse worked independently of the other until 1968. The launch control area of the West Blockhouse still contains original launch support equipment including control panels, communications equipment, and monitoring consoles. Other small buildings for equipment, administration, and technical support were constructed at SLC-10 through the 1970s.

The three launch pads (Pad 10-East, Pad 10-West, and LE-8 Facility) were almost identical, each contained within its own perimeter fence. The West Pad retains the greatest integrity. Each pad sat about several hundred feet away from the blockhouse and included a missile shelter that served as a protective enclosure for the launch vehicle, fueling systems, instrumentation trenches, and support facilities for equipment and storage.

The first launches from SLC-10 occurred in summer 1959 by the British Royal Air Force. The original SLC-10 launch site and the three pads were decommissioned and stripped after THOR launches were discontinued in 1962. The entire launch complex was dismantled and transported to Johnson Island in the Pacific to support the U.S. nuclear testing project. The Air Force decided to proceed with a satellite program and decided to rebuild SLC-10 West in 1963, with equipment shipped from England, where 60 missile sites were recently dismantled. The last launch from SLC-10 West was in July 1980. Afterwards the site was decommissioned.

In 1987 the Vandenberg Air Force Base Space and Missile Heritage Center, now renamed the Space and Technology Center, became caretaker of the launch pad and facilities. The blockhouse, West Pad, and Clean Room underwent renovations in 2016 and 2017. As the only site at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the National Registry of Historic Places, it is open to the public for tours once a month.

References

Klock, Paul R. Western Space and Missile Center, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Air Force, 1990.

Mondl, Mark C., “Space Launch Complex 10,” Santa Barbara County, California. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1986. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

“Vandenburg Air Force Base, Space Launch Complex 10,” Santa Barbara County, California. Historic American Engineering Record, 2002. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HAER CA-296-F).

Writing Credits

Author: 
Pollyanna Rhee
Coordinator: 
Emily Bills
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Data

Timeline

  • 1958

    Built

Citation

Pollyanna Rhee, "Space Launch Complex 10", [Lompoc, California], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/CA-01-083-0052.

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