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Commercial space launches to increase drastically on California's Central Coast

Image: Jalama Beach County Park

On Wednesday, April 10, the California Coastal Commission will hold a hearing regarding the increased SpaceX launches at Vandenberg Space Force Base. Vandenberg proposes to increase SpaceX Falcon 9 launches from 6 to 36 per year, which could result in:

  • Up to 14 annual closures at Jalama Beach Park (though none are expected);
  • A significant amount of marine debris;
  • Unknown marine life impacts;
  • Over 23,000 metric tons of CO2 annually.

This request by Vandenberg comes at a time when the Commission recently approved up to 48 launches annually by Phantom Space Corporation. All together, the Base could host up to 169 space launches annually, over 3 per week. Additionally, Vandenberg has indicated that they plan to continue to increase commercial launches over time. Another Coastal Commission hearing on yet more increases may be imminent before the end of the year.

SpaceX, does not have a great track record of safety and permit compliance, resulting in rocket explosions in Texas and unpermitted beach closures (p.16)  at Jalama Beach County Park - the former resulting in Surfrider filing a lawsuit against the FAA.

We’re worried about coastal access and wildlife, and the unknown impacts of such a drastic increase in launches, all for commercial benefit.  Surf Beach and Ocean Beach within Vandenberg and adjacent Jalama Beach County Park provide critically important public beach access along a stretch of coast with limited public access opportunities.

Vandenberg proposes to mitigate the potential coastal access impacts:

  1. Install high speed internet terminals at the County Park to help address bottleneck and get people into the park faster / streamline reservations;
  2. Install a new message board on Highway One with camping availability to Jalama;
  3. Host a shuttle system so campers can leave during a launch event and come back instead of full closure;
  4. Install Snowy Plover interpretive signage at Surf Beach;
  5. Fund Lompoc Unified School District 3rd graders field trip to Surf Beach/ Ocean Park.

The launch site is adjacent to Vandenberg State Marine Reserve (SMR), part of the state’s network of marine protected areas, located offshore of Lompoc. The region is home to California red-legged frog, black abalone, marbled murrelets, and southern sea otters. The SMR also provides protection for one of the largest breeding sites in California for endangered western snowy plovers.

The Department of Air Force will implement a monitoring program focused on the sensitive species and habitats, including the California reg-legged frog, western snowy plover, California least tern, marine mammal haul-out areas, and two species of bats.

Despite the proposed coastal access mitigation and environmental monitoring, Surfrider opposes a rapid increase in commercial launches at Vandenberg. We suggest that the increase in launches proceed at a slower pace, informed by robust environmental monitoring. Historical data on coastal resource impacts from launches is based on less launches by orders of magnitude. It cannot inform what effects such a rapid increase will have on the coast.

Your voice can make a difference in shaping the future of our coastline, by attending and speaking up at the Coastal Commission hearing.

  • 🗓️ WHEN: Wednesday April 10 
  • 📍 WHERE: Coastal Commission Hearing (virtual or in Long Beach - check out for more info)
  • 📣 HOW: Submit a speaker slip for item 13a and prepare comments for up to 2 minutes. Contact us if you need guidance -

Let's ensure that any decisions made are in the best interest of our coast!