VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE - Vandenberg Space Force Base is home to one of the largest electrical systems in the entire Air Force. The duties of maintenance and repair on the numerous electrical poles, circuits, breakers, substations, lightning arrestors and more rest squarely upon the tried-and-true coveralls of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron.
“This base is just so large that we need multiple substations to maintain service all around the base,” says Mr. Edward Smith, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical section foreman. “It requires these redundancies, or back-ups in the case of issues or emergency, to provide the necessary overhead to keep our systems in place, protected and able to be distributed.”
Vandenberg has the capacity for receiving upwards of seventy-thousand volts of concurrent power. All of that power is diverted to a total of nine substations across both North and South bases, each of which possess transformers that drop the total voltages down to a more manageable twelve-thousand volts. Following that, the electrical currents then flow through various circuit lines, travelling down to various buildings and finally outputting at 120 volts. In layman’s terms, this electrical conversion process is what inevitably powers everything from an office microwave to the Space Launch Complexes. The process, however, is much more involved than simply flipping a switch.
“We conducted substation switching today to ensure that Space Launch Complex 4 didn’t experience any outages during maintenance,” said Tech. Sergeant David Livoti, 30th Civil Engineering Squadron electrical section chief. “They had full power the entire time, while we simultaneously de-energized our entire M-Line circuit for our linemen to safely test and ground conductors, climb into their bucket trucks then replace six lightning arrestors.”
With common environmental hazards like high winds, lightning strikes, fires, thick fog layers that cause corrosion and more, safely maintaining these vast electrical systems on base is paramount in preventing outages or helping mitigate the need for frequent short-term repairs. Functionally, 30th CES set up these systems in an attempt to maintain as much control in switching process as possible while preventing outages during maintenance.
“When we go out into the field, our goal is to isolate only a certain section for repair, while also keeping our base inhabitants fed with commercial power,” said Livoti. “Something as simple as having up-to-date equipment like our new drill sets has also cut the time required of the Airmen to replace items like lightning arrestors in half!”
When considering the vastness of Vandenberg’s environment, it may be worth noting the effect its unique landscape and challenges can have on an electrician’s perspective of a problem. With great problems come great responsibility that hones the abilities of Airmen and civilians working to uphold Vandenberg as a sparkling beacon of launch readiness of the California central coast.
“Thanks to our electrical infrastructure here, most of, if not all our Airmen will leave here as technical experts in this field,” said Smith. “They get more direct, hands-on electrical line-work training than just about any other base due to its size and scope.”