Point Arguello, Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 6

Point Arguello, Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 6

by | Dec 14, 2021

Point Arguello is a prominent headland and the site of Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 6, as well as a historical cattle ranch, lighthouse station, and a Loran station, about 55 miles (89 km) west-northwest of Santa Barbara and 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Lompoc, California. In 1769, members of the Spanish Portolá expedition were the first Europeans to explore this area by land. On 26 August 1769, they camped near a creek that reaches the ocean at a sheltered cove and found a native Chumash village that subsisted primarily on ocean fishing. Franciscan missionary Juan Crespi, who accompanied the expedition, noted that the village chief had a lame leg, and they called the village ‘Rancheria del Cojo’ meaning ‘lame man’. The next day, the explorers continued north past the headland known today as Point Conception and camped near another Chumash village they named ‘Rancheria de la Espada’ meaning ‘the sword’ after an incident about a villager trying to run off with a soldier’s sword. The next day, the expedition moved on to a campsite at a spring-fed creek on the south side of what is now Point Arguello. On the 29th, the party moved past the point and headed north toward the mouth of the Santa Ynez River. Along the way, soldiers found flints for their flintlock firearms near a rocky point, which they named ‘Los Pedernales’. The entire cape was given that name on some early maps, but in 1792, Captain George Vancouver named the headland Point Arguello, for José Darío Argüello, a Spanish frontier soldier who at the time was Commandant of the Presidio of Monterey and later acting governor of Alta California. In 1837, a Mexican land grant of 24,992 acres (10,114 ha) called Rancho Punta de la Concepcion, from the secularized holdings of Mission La Purísima Concepción, was given by Governor Juan Alvarado to Anastasio José Carrillo who was the son of Don Raymundo Carrillo, one of the first commanders of the presidios at San Diego and Santa Barbara. The land grant extended along the Pacific coast from Point Arguello south to Cojo Creek, just east of Point Conception. In 1851, Carrillo partitioned the property into Rancho La Espada (the sword) with 16,500 acres (6,677 ha) on the west and Rancho El Cojo (the lame) with 8,580 acres (3,472 ha) on the east. He sold Rancho La Espada to Isaac J. Sparks, and in 1852, Sparks sold it to Gaspar Oreña, who sold it to Thomas Dibblee in 1867. In 1879, the Dibblee-Hollister partnership was dissolved, and Rancho La Espada went to Hollister, and in 1883, it was sold to Captain Robert Sudden.

Ships sailing south here along the coast must locate the Santa Barbara Channel entrance and make a critical turn between Points Arguello and Conception to the east and San Miguel Island to the west. A strong prevailing northerly current makes this maneuver difficult, and over 50 known shipwrecks have occurred here which prompted the construction of a light station. In 1901, the U.S. Lighthouse Service built the first light station at Point Arguello consisting of a one-story rectangular fog building with a pitched roof and a tower extending from the center of its western end. Atop the short tower was a circular lantern room, which housed a fourth-order Frédéric Barbier Fresnel lens formerly used at Point Hueneme. The lighthouse stood near the outer end of the peninsula, and 600 feet (183 m) farther inland, a single-family residence and a two-story duplex were constructed to house the light keepers. Additional buildings at the station included a blacksmith shop, a barn, and an oil house that was capable of storing a year’s supply of oil to operate both the light and the fog signal. Water for the station was taken from a spring on adjoining land and piped 7,000 feet (2,134 m) to two masonry cisterns, which then distributed the water by gravity to the various buildings. A radio direction finder station was added and soon a small community started to form with a post office named ‘Arlight’, a contraction of Arguello and lighthouse. In 1934, the lighthouse was replaced by a pair of revolving aero beacons mounted on top of a steel tower, and in 1939, the light keeper’s dwellings were converted to barracks and additional ranch-style houses were built nearby. During World War II, the U.S. Coast Guard manned the light and a lifeboat station at Point Conception. In 1945, a Loran Station was built with up to sixteen personnel on-site, and in 1967, the original dwellings associated with the lighthouse were razed, and a new metal tower was installed. Today, the light is a revolving beacon mounted on a post 124 feet (38 m) above sea level that can be seen for approximately 17 miles (27 km). A two-tone diaphone fog signal operates when visibility is less than 5 miles (8.0 km).

In 1941, the U.S. Army embarked on an initiative to train infantry and armored forces and acquired approximately 86,000 acres (35,000 ha) of ranch lands along the Central Coast of California that was named Camp Cooke in honor of Major General Phillip St. George Cooke. In 1958, the northern portion of this facility was transferred to the U.S. Air Force and renamed Vandenberg Air Force Base in honor of General Hoyt Vandenberg. The southern portion of the former Army camp, encompassing over 19,800 acres (8,013 ha), was transferred to the U.S. Navy. In 1963, the Air Force was given central authority to coordinate missile and space vehicle launching and tracking on a worldwide basis, and the facility at Point Arguello became Air Force property in 1964. In the mid-1960s, the Air Force also acquired the Sudden Ranch under the law of eminent domain, and the property included the Point Arguello light station and the Loran station. The site was developed as Space Launch Complex 6, originally for launching Titan III rockets and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, but these projects were canceled before the construction of the facility was complete. The complex was later rebuilt to serve as the west coast launch site for the Space Shuttle but went unused due to budget, safety, and political issues. The pad was subsequently used for military Space Shuttle missions and several Athena rocket launches, including the Lewis satellite launch, before being modified to support the Delta IV launch vehicle family, which has used the pad since 2006. Rocket launches from Vandenberg fly southward, allowing payloads to be placed in polar or sun-synchronous high-inclination orbits, which allow full global coverage on a regular basis and are often used for weather, Earth observation, and reconnaissance satellites. These orbits are difficult to reach from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, where launches must fly eastward due to major population centers north and south of Kennedy Space Center. Avoiding these would require inefficient maneuvering and fuel consumption, greatly reducing payload capacity. Read more here and here. Explore more of Point Arguello here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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