United Launch Alliance will lay off 48 people at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a move that comes as rival SpaceX ups the competition in the launch services market.
The joint venture between aerospace giants Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. said the layoffs will take place June 1, according to a notice filed in late March under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Most of those affected are aerospace technicians.
United Launch Alliance said last year that it would initiate two rounds of layoffs — one in 2016 that eliminated about 350 positions and one this year — to accomplish its “business goals.”
“United Launch Alliance continues to transform our company to provide cost-effective solutions for our customers, while we maintain our focus on mission success,” the venture said in a recent statement. “We appreciate all of our team members’ contributions and understand the difficulty and stress that workforce reductions place on the impacted employees and their families.”
The company launches rockets from three pads at Vandenberg.
The venture has faced increased competition for military launch contracts after Hawthorne-based SpaceX was certified in 2015 by the U.S. Air Force to launch national security satellites, breaking up a long-standing and lucrative monopoly held by United Launch Alliance.
Since then, SpaceX has been awarded two Air Force satellite launch contracts, the most recent of which came in March.
At the same time, the U.S. has largely finished replacing Cold War-era spy satellite constellations with newer satellites, meaning there will be fewer national security satellite launches in the years to come, said Loren Thompson, aerospace analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank that receives money from Lockheed and Boeing.
“On the one hand, the Air Force has now replaced many of its most sensitive satellites,” he said. “And on the other hand, SpaceX is competing successfully to win some of the business that’s left.”
Vandenberg is a military and commercial satellite launch site for both ULA and SpaceX, which launches Falcon 9 rockets from a pad on base.
The base is home to the 30th Space Wing, which manages space and missile testing for the Department of Defense, as well as the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile force development evaluation program.
Vandenberg also houses at least four interceptors for the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, which is capable of intercepting long-range missiles from North Korea, Thompson said.