In reading the obituary of William "Bill" Snelling, it reminded me of his special place in our team's success in becoming the first in the USA to complete a commercial launch site under the Federal Aviation Administration in 1996.

Our team started to come together in the 1980s after the Air Force cancellation of their Blue Shuttle Program, which was to launch into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base. 

George King hosted a meeting in his Embassy Suites Hotel of depressed real estate dealers and other financial interests in Lompoc to try to form a consensus of what would fill this big hole in Lompoc's future.

Out of these several meetings I suggested to Bob Hatch that the Chamber focus its attention on the coming launch of a new polar orbiting satellite system called Iridium, with its 66 satellites destined to be launched by Russia, China and France.

Both Russia and China had indicated that they would use this system in their countries, but France won their share of these launches (55 satellites) in a competition of lowest launch costs. If I could have the satellite manufacturer (Motorola in Arizona) reopen the competition for that part of the launches, it would help me get a Vandenberg-based launch company to lower its price to win this first commercial launch from VAFB. He did, and we did.

After many months of effort in California and Arizona, we won 11 launches of the then McDonald Douglas Delta II rocket, which brought over $100 million of commercial launches to VAFB. The first major commercial launches at VAFB!

This lead to development of the non-profit Western Commercial Space Center and the creation of the California Commercial Spaceport. Our team grew from the ideas of Andrew Salazar, Earl Severo, more than 10 retiring Air Force officers, Rodger Martin, Jana Bott, Louise and Jim DeWilder, Eleanor Potts, Bob Peterson, Bob Wyckoff, my brother Douglas Smith and myself. We had many more volunteer ideas and technical support from Etta Waterfield, Ron Evey, Col. Seb Coglitore, Brig. Gen. Lance Lord, etc. But when it came to finances, out of the blue appeared Bill Snelling.

Alaska senator Ted Stevens had put $10 million into the 1994 Air Force budget to encourage the development of commercial space programs. Our team won a $2.35 million grant to start our spaceport at Vandenberg. But we had to have $450,000 in our possession to receive this award. Bill said he would lend us that from his bank under certain conditions, and the Air Force office agreed that it would satisfy their requirements for private investment - so for two minutes I had a check for $450,000 in my hands and then sent that amount to my subsidiary, the for-profit California Commercial Spaceport Inc. development company to be headed by Earl Severo.

I then received a check in the mail from the US Treasury for over $800,000 which was the first payment of the $2.35 million. The next year I received a grant of $3 million from the 1995 $10 million bill.

When the state of Alaska continued to receive less than California, Sen. Stevens discontinued the program. We had developed a team agreement with ITT Federal Systems to build this spaceport and they ultimately spent $12 million and we contributed $7 million.

The Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. Sheila Widnall, granted me a 25-year lease on 108 acres adjacent to Space Launch Complex 6 for our new California Commercial Spaceport, now called SLC 8. William "Bill" Snelling played a timely key role in fulfilling contractual requirements for a "public/private partnership."

Donald D. Smith is retired from the California Commercial Spaceport Authority


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