EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE — The Jet Propulsion Laboratory will begin closing its 48-year-old Edwards Air Force Base test facility Oct. 1 and hopes to reduce the site's staff by more than half by year's end.
Forty-five people, including JPL employees and contractors, work at the 570-acre facility. In the last three months of the year, the work force will be cut to 19 as part of the two-year closure process, said Philip Garrison, manager of JPL's propulsion and chemicals section.
The future of the 26 people who will be cut remains unknown. Garrison said JPL hopes to find jobs for at least some of the workers in its main facility in Pasadena but that may be difficult.
JPL, operated by Caltech, a private institution, announced this year it was going to reduce its 7,500-member work force by 1,000 people over the next five years. Most of the reductions are expected through attrition, but some layoffs are likely.
JPL's site at Edwards is one of several satellite locations it operates and the only one slated for closure as the organization looks to reduce costs.
The Edwards site has 69 buildings ranging from specialized facilities, such as liquid and solid rocket test stands, to standards, such as the cafeteria. Shutting it down is expected to cost $5 million to $10 million and take about two years, Garrison said. Much of the work will be in moving the large quantities of propellants and chemicals that are on site.
JPL and the Air Force are discussing the fate of the structures, Garrison said, noting that many of them will probably be left standing.
Garrison said JPL has contracted with a private firm for an analysis of the environmental work, such as material disposal and cleanup, that will be required to shut the facility.
JPL announced this year it was seeking approval from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, its parent agency, to close the Edwards facility, which has seen its workload dwindle over the years. In the 1960s and '70s the JPL site was where rockets were tested for most of the unmanned space exploration missions in that era.
In recent years, the JPL facility at Edwards has done little work for the NASA facility at the base.
Milt Thompson, NASA's chief engineer at the Dryden Flight Research Facility and a pilot of the rocket-powered X-15 aircraft, said in the past several years Dryden has gotten any needed support in the area of fuels and propellants from the Phillips Laboratory, also on the sprawling Air Force base.
Nonetheless, the departure of JPL from Edwards closes a chapter in the base's long flight test history.
"We're kind of sorry to see them go," Thompson said. "They were in on the pioneering space efforts."