Vandenberg Air Force Base Launches & Events

Many people outside of the Central California Coast may be surprised to learn Vandenberg Air Force Base occupies a 150 square-mile area in the Santa Maria Valley, just 18 miles south of Santa Maria, California (150 miles northwest of Los Angeles). Over the years, Vandenberg has been the site of thousands of missile and space launches. What started as a military missile launch and training site in the 1950’s is now operated by the 30th Space Wing and is the only United States military installation from which unmanned government and commercial satellites are launched into polar orbit.

NASA’s InSight Mission Launch to Mars

Coming up in May, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is leading the first mission to study the deep interior of the planet Mars. The InSight Mission, an acronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will be launching from Vandenberg sometime between May 5 and June 8, 2018. The spacecraft’s launch conditions have to be just right to have a successful liftoff. Daily launch opportunities are set five minutes apart during each day’s two hour launch window. The first opportunity is at 4:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on May 5, 2018.

The InSight Atlas V Booster travels along the Central California Coast. Photo credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin

Mars Insight Roadshow Events

Family-friendly science activities, exhibits, and community seminars promoting planetary science will be taking place in Santa Maria Valley in the days leading up to the launch window. At these events, you can hear interviews with NASA scientists and engineers, see models of the InSight spacecraft, use Virtual Reality headsets to see panoramas of Mars, and even make your own “Marsquake” to test seismometer readings. Click on the event links below for more information.

May 2-3 – Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum Exhibit
May 4 – Allan Hancock College, Exhibit and Public Talk

A 2015 launch from Vandenberg AFB. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Launch Schedule

The Vandenberg Air Force Base Launch Center is a great resource for launch news as well as the Facebook page for the 30th Space Wing.

Watching the Launch

The same type of rocket (an Atlas V) that will be used to launch the InSight spacecraft, recently launched in September 2017 and could be seen across the night sky throughout Santa Maria Valley. Check out the official Mars Insight Mission viewing locations as well as a list of informal viewing spots throughout the valley. Weather permitting, the launch may be visible from Santa Maria all the way to San Diego.

Things to Do in Santa Maria Valley

Upcoming Events