The Air Force has decided to put its $3.3-billion space shuttle launch complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base in mothballs, meaning that no shuttle launches will take place on the West Coast for "an extended period of time," congressional and Pentagon sources said Monday.
Before the Challenger disaster last January, the first Air Force shuttle had been scheduled to lift off from the California site this month, beginning routine shuttle launches of secret reconnaissance satellites into polar orbit.
A decision to put the West Coast launch complex on a standby status had been expected, especially because it became clear that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's remaining three orbiters would not fly again before 1988.
Because of extraordinary safety precautions expected when spaceflights resume, NASA officials have concluded that all of the remaining orbiters should be based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, though landings will continue to take place at Edwards Air Force Base.
Awaits Reagan Announcement
A Pentagon official who declined to be identified said formal disclosure of the decision is awaiting an announcement by President Reagan on whether to build a new orbiter to replace Challenger.
A senior interagency group, headed by White House National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter, is scheduled to meet again today, and sources said it probably will lay before Reagan the options for constructing a fourth orbiter.
Although the President has indicated that he favors replacing the lost shuttle, officials have been deadlocked on the issue of how a new shuttle could be financed.
Aviation Week magazine said Monday that the Air Force recommendation on the Vandenberg launch site calls for the new complex to remain inactive until at least 1991.