Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 3

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Space Launch Complex 3
VAFB Space Launch Complex-3 East Atlas V 2008-03-12.jpg
The first Atlas V to launch from the West Coast at SLC-3E.
Launch site Vandenberg AFB
Location 34.6423°N
Short name SLC-3
Operator US Air Force
Total launches 119
Launch pad(s) 2
Minimum / maximum
orbital inclination
51° – 145°
SLC-3W (PALC-1-1) launch history
Status Demolished
Launches 81
First launch October 11, 1960
Atlas-Agena / Samos 1
Last launch March 24, 1995
Atlas-E/F / USA-109
Associated rockets Atlas-Agena
Falcon 1 (unused)
SLC-3E (PALC-1-2) launch history
Status Active
Launches 38
First launch July 12, 1961
Atlas-Agena / Midas 3
Last launch December 13, 2014
Atlas V / USA-259
Associated rockets Atlas-Agena
Atlas II
Atlas V (current)

Space Launch Complex 3 (SLC-3) is a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base that has been used by Atlas and Thor rockets. It was built in the early 1960s[not verified in body] and consists of two pads, SLC-3E (East) and SLC-3W (West). The East-West coastline at Vandenberg allows SLC-3 to launch over-ocean polar trajectories that avoid landfall until passing over Antarctica. By contrast, Cape Canaveral has a North-South coastline permitting over-ocean launches into standard orbits.


Three successful Atlas IIAS missions were flown from SLC-3E. The first mission, flown on December 18, 1999, launched the Terra satellite.[1] The other two launched satellites in the Naval Ocean Surveillance System, USA 160 and USA 173.[2][3] The final Atlas IIAS mission from SLC-3E was launched on December 2, 2003.[4]

It was reported in 2003 that SLC-3E would be overhauled to serve as a launch platform for the Atlas V.[5] Renovations of SLC-3E, which began after a January 2004 ground breaking ceremony, included raising the Mobile Service Tower roof by approximately 30 ft (9.1 m), to a height of 239 ft (73 m). The tower can thus accommodate an Atlas V 500 series vehicle with its larger payload fairing.[6] In July 2004 Lockheed Martin announced the arrival of the fourth and final segment of the fixed launch platform (FLP). The segments had been transported from a fabrication facility in Oak Hill, FL, 3,500 miles (5,600 km) away. The largest segment weighed 90 tons and, "is thought to be the biggest over-the-road shipment ever attempted cross-country."[7] In February 2005 the activations team handed over the launch pad to the operational team, marking the end of major reconstruction.[8] The first Atlas V launch from SLC-3E took place at 10:02 GMT on March 13, 2008.[9]


Falcon 1 on Pad 3W.

SLC-3W was used briefly by SpaceX during the early development of the Falcon 1 launch vehicle.[10][11]

Several test firings of the Falcon 1 were accomplished before SpaceX discovered that due to the overflight risk they would not be allowed to launch from SLC-3W while launch vehicles were standing on adjacent launch sites.[citation needed] As one of the adjacent sites was at the time occupied by a "pad queen" (a launch vehicle that sits on its launch pad for months or years before launch) the restriction caused SpaceX to abandon SLC-3W and instead develop their Omelek Island launch site for Falcon 1. SpaceX co-founder Elon Musk has stated that no compensation was paid to SpaceX over this issue.[citation needed]

It was announced in mid-2010 that from mid-2012 SpaceX is to use SLC-4 for Falcon 9 launches from Vandenberg.[12]

SpaceX announced in April 2011 that they would launch the first flight of Falcon Heavy from Vandenberg SLC-4, anticipated in 2013.[13]


  1. ^ NASA – NSSDC – Spacecraft – Details. NASA.
  2. ^ NASA – NSSDC – Spacecraft – Details. NASA.
  3. ^ NASA – NSSDC – Spacecraft – Details. NASA.
  4. ^ "ILS Successfully Launches Atlas IIAS with NRO Payload". International Launch Services. December 2, 2003. Retrieved 2013-03-16. 
  5. ^ Justin Ray (December 4, 2003). "Vandenberg's Atlas Launchpad Getting Extensive Facelift". 
  6. ^ "Lockheed Martin Begins Atlas V West Coast Launch Pad Renovations SLC 3E Being Readied for Atlas V Missions in Fall 2005". LM. January 14, 2004. 
  7. ^ "Lockheed Martin Marks Major Milestone At West Coast Atlas V Launch Pad". PR Newswire. July 27, 2004. 
  9. ^ "Rocket Lifts Off With Secret Satellite". Associated Press. [dead link]
  10. ^ Forum > General Space Flight (Atlas, Delta, ESA, Russian, Chinese) > Commercial Launchers (Space X, Sea Launch, etc.) > Topic: Elon Musk Q&A – Updates SpaceX status on Falcon and Dragon > Reply #2554
  11. ^ Federal Register /Vol. 73, No. 245 / Friday, December 19, 2008 / Proposed Rules, page 77579.
  12. ^ Simburg, Rand. "SpaceX Press Conference". Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  13. ^ Morring, Frank, Jr. (April 7, 2011). "Musk Sees Markets for Falcon 9 Heavy". Aviation Week. Retrieved 2011-04-09. The first Heavy will be delivered to SpaceX’s facility at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., by November or December 2012, with a test flight 'to follow soon thereafter.'  

Coordinates: 34°38′35″N 120°35′19″W / 34.6429885°N 120.5885124°W / 34.6429885; -120.5885124