VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Two fires tore through over 12,000 acres of Vandenberg Space Force Base starting on Sept. 17, 2016, mainly occurring on its south base. For the next 11 days, engineers and electricians assigned to the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron had to act fast, executing emergency switching operations to provide safe firefighting conditions. This resulted in widespread power outages throughout the installation.
The aptly named Canyon Fire scorched a very significant section of south base, known as south loop two. South loop two, containing substations K and N, is integral to space launch operations, with vehicles such as the Atlas V, Delta IV, and the SpaceX Falcon-9 relying on its energy. The capability was lost when 44,000 ft. of area between substations K and N was substantially damaged due to the Canyon Fire jumping around.
When the fire broke out, over 161 poles were heavily damaged or destroyed. The damaged poles were replaced with concrete ones, significantly mitigating the possibility of another fire destroying them again.
After almost six years of rebuilding, on June 2, 2022, south loop two came back to life. Electricians and power grid engineers, and contractors worked hand-in-hand to route power to substation N, from substation K, which was primarily used to keep south base powered while repairs to the infrastructure of south loop two were underway.
Power was routed to substation N using a phase system, a process that Glenn Scott Bruner, power grid engineer, was familiar with.
“You have to look at phases like a circle chart on a 360 degree axis,” Bruner said. “If the two substations aren’t in the same phase on the chart, it will cause a differential in voltage.”
A way to check to see if the phasing process was successful is to have two people operate “hot sticks” to monitor voltage. If the poles read zero, or close to it, phasing is complete, and power is routed to the substation.
Phasing isn’t all that common on base, but here it was particularly important. Senior Airman Kenneth Kilpatrick, 30th CES electrical systems journeyman, said that having these phases out of sync could spell bad news.
“We never want to have two different potentials,” Kilpatrick said. “If you combine them together, it’ll severely damage the equipment.”
SrA Kilpatrick has been on station for about five years, so he understands how special it is to power up the space launch complexes, or SLC’s.
“It’s honestly super cool to be here,” Kilpatrick said. “If I were at an Air Force base, I’d be out on flight lines, but here I get to see rockets get launched, so it definitely has its perks.”
Substation N, and south loop two are vital, they are the life source of Vandenberg’s space launch mission. And now, they’re back online.