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This area of the US Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake dates from the Manhattan Project. Common sense, as well as eye-witness testimony, indicate that there are underground facilities, as well as above ground ones. We can only speculate as to the extent of the underground network. There are likely old mines in the area, as well. Most likely old mines were expanded and turned into underground tunnel-test facilities. The original M 6.4 earthquake was centered in the area of the Skytop Rocket Propulsion Test Facility, described further below. The quakes appear to be apart from known earthquake faults, or at least apart from any major ones. They are almost entirely within the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake. CalTech estimated that the original M 6.4 earthquake in the area of Skytop was at a depth of 8.7 km (more shallow the USGS). An article written by Dr. Jennifer Andrews includes the following info: “CFM fault associations: most likely Not associated with a CFM modeled fault (99%). Alternates: Little Lake fault (1%). Nearby faults: Little Lake fault zone (0.9 km) and Wilson Canyon fault (14.6 km)“. See: https://archive.li/http://www.scsn.org/index.php/2019/07/04/07-04-2019-m6-4-near-searles-valley/
Thus we deduce some sort of induced seismicity.

Zoom out to show high risk faults. Quake dots only appear on major faults due to zoom out function.

Google Earth file with fault probabilities: http://www.wgcep.org/ucerf3

Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility (Skytop)


Skytop conducts static test firing of solid-propellant rocket engines, gas generators, and ignition systems that are both fielded and developmental. Skytop evaluates rocket motors being qualified for future use in complete weapon systems and conducts aging or surveillance studies to ensure deployed motors are maintaining specific design capabilities. Verification of rocket motor susceptibility to failure is monitored during testing to identify and correct any failure points.

Unique Features.

Skytop is one of only a few propulsion test facilities nationwide with no encroachment issues. The U.S. Navy controls the land as well as the airspace for miles around, and areas are set aside specifically for very high-hazard testing of large solid-fuel engines. The multidisciplinary technical team is highly trained. Full-scale all-up-round motor experimentation is conducted on weapon systems with up to two million pounds of thrust and up to 92 inches in diameter.

Combat Support.

Developmental and production acceptance testing, as well as aging motor studies of the Navy’s submarine-launched fleet ballistic missiles, have all been conducted at Skytop, ensuring the U.S. has the most reliable strategic deterrent system in existence. Skytop has been instrumental in the developmental testing of most tactical air- and surface-launched weapons currently in use by the Fleet today.

Cost / Time Savings Examples. Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Booster.

In 2008, the Missile Defense Agency came to China Lake with an urgent requirement to test their candidate target ICBM booster.

To perform this mission, Skytop personnel had to design and assemble a thrust vector control system as well as the calibration tooling and hydraulic system to support it, because the flight systems were unavailable. From a blank piece of paper in August 2008 to a successful firing in January 2009, the China Lake team pulled it off and turned the system around for an enhanced follow-on test in just two months, all the while supporting normally scheduled tactical developmental engine testing.

Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).

In 2009, the LRASM program expressed interest in testing 20-year-old Supersonic Launched Aerial Target (SLAT) motors in flight-like conditions. In an eight-week in-house effort, an air storage capability and high-speed valving was designed, built, and installed in Bay 1 to provide air flow to mimic the dynamic conditions experienced on the forward end of the rocket motor in flight.


Production motors with thrusts up to one million pounds can be heavily instrumented and tested in any of several nozzle-down angles on a one-of-a-kind hydraulic tilt-table, and in the horizontal mode with thrusts to 1.5 million pounds. Developmental or other high-hazard engines with thrusts to 300,000 pounds can also be tested in one of two high-hazard test bays. Additional activities include machining of rocket motors for propellant aging studies.

Size / Description / Scope.

The Skytop area consists of 1.5 square miles of land in the southeast corner of the China Lake complex, an isolated location enabling testing of large, high-energy, high-risk systems. Two facilities, Bay 2A and Bay 3, are about 8.4 miles from Main Site. The explosive limit is 205,000 pounds of the highest energy propellant and 300,000 pounds of the less sensitive propellant, both in NEW. Annual Test Events: 115. Plant Value: $35M+.

Main Facilities.

Encompass 30,000 SF of enclosed instrumentation, fabrication, test, and storage space. Facilities include a bunkered control room and four active test bays, with one common data reduction facility.

Main Control Room.

Connected via fiber-optics to all test bays and the data reduction center • Data Reduction Center. Dual classified / unclassified data reduction computers • Bay I (Tactical High-Hazard Bay). Capable of handling steady-state, horizontal rocket thrust to 100,000 pounds, vertical to 10,000 pounds, with temperature conditioning from -65 to 220°F • Bay-IIA (Tactical or Strategic High-Hazard Bay). Capable of handling steady-state, horizontal rocket thrust to 300,000 pounds, with temperature conditioning in nominal ambient conditions • Bay-VI (Strategic systems Tilt Bay). Capable of handling steady-state horizontal through vertical (in several angle steps) rocket thrust to one million pounds, with temperature conditioning in nominal ambient conditions • Bay-VII (Strategic Systems Horizontal Bay). Capable of handling steady-state rocket thrust to 1.5 million pounds, with temperature conditioning in nominal ambient conditions

Distribution Statement A. Approved for public release. NAWCWD PR 14-0100, Sept. 2014.


CalTech has the M 6.4 earthquake in the area of Skytop as more shallow the the USGS. At the very least this demonstrates that the depth is somewhat subjective. According to CalTech:
04 Jul 2019 10:33:48 PDT, (35.705, -117.508), depth 8.7km. 12km SW of Searles Valley, California
CalTech also says that since records began in 1932 there have been 31 events of M4 or greater within 10km of the July 4th 2019 earthquake. The largest prior to the 4th was M5.8 on 1995/09/20, and the most recent was M4.1 on 01 Nov 2011. The article written by Dr. Jennifer Andrews includes the following info on faults:
Faults: CFM fault associations: most likely Not associated with a CFM modeled fault (99%). Alternates: Little Lake fault (1%). Nearby faults: Little Lake fault zone (0.9 km) and Wilson Canyon fault (14.6 km)“. The entire article, including how they arrived at the last conclusions, can be found here: https://archive.li/http://www.scsn.org/index.php/2019/07/04/07-04-2019-m6-4-near-searles-valley/

Excerpts from “The Station Comes of Age, History of the Navy at China Lake, Vol 4 mentioning Skytop: “East of China Lake’s Mainside and behind Lone Butte (known locally as B Mountain because of its large white-painted “B,” which Burroughs High School seniors refresh each year), site preparation was under way for Skytop, a complex designed specifically for live testing of Polaris rocket motors and capable of handling motors with a peak thrust of 10 million pounds. Completed in November 1959 at a cost of $650,000, Skytop (formally, the Static Test Facility, and later, as it expanded, the Static Test Range) became the Navy’s go-to site for testing large solid-propellant rocket motors. The facility’s role subsequently expanded to support a number of national and international large solid-propellant motor programs. The Navy’s Special Projects Office—the nerve center of the Polaris program—had also selected NOTS to design the underwater launching technique for Polaris. Initial planning for underwater-launch equipment and support facilities on San Clemente Island began in 1958, and NOTS’ 1959 budget earmarked $1.55 million for construction. The new facilities would include an underwater pop-up launcher and an ingenious barge-mounted crane called “Fishhook” that snagged the expensive Construction of Skytop began in 1958 under the leadership of Edwin G. Swann, Jr., head of the Medium Range Missile Branch in the Weapons Development Department. DeMarco designed the facility, and Ralph M. Parsons Co. of Los Angeles constructed it. The project was completed in November 1959 at a cost of $650,000.

Bay 1, where the first firing of a Polaris motor took place in February 1959, could accommodate rockets with an average thrust of a million pounds and a peak thrust of 10 million pounds. At 35 feet long and 30 feet wide, the test bay accommodated motors up to 6 feet in diameter and weighing up to 100,000 pounds. Support structures included the Preparation and Conditioning Building (where motors could be conditioned in temperatures from +70°F to +110°F) and, a quarter mile away from the firing bay, the Fire Control and Instrumentation Building, where the 40 channels of test data initially obtainable during a firing were later expanded to 200 channels. All the structures were massive, built of reinforced concrete and covered with earth. By the end of 1961, 20 full-scale Polaris motors, both first and second stages, had been fired at Skytop.36

Even with Skytop I on line, the demand for full-scale test facilities still exceeded capability. In June 1960 construction began on Skytop II, which gave the Navy the capability to test a giant motor in a nozzle-down orientation and under simulated high-altitude (up to 100,000 feet) conditions. The initial firing at Skytop II took place in November 1961, with the successful test of a Polaris second-stage motor.37

Still more was needed. Construction began on Skytop III in July 1960 for high-hazard testing of the big motors, including test of those suspected of being defective. Early tests included firing a .30-caliber armor-piercing round into a Jupiter Junior rocket motor and testing a Polaris motor flight-termination device (to be used to destroy a missile if something went awry during flight). By the time the Skytop Complex was dedicated in November 1961, the Navy had invested $2 million in the facility. In his remarks at the dedication, NOTS Commander Captain Charles Blenman, Jr., praised the Propulsion Development Department, which had spearheaded the Skytop construction effort, as well as groups in the Test, Engineering, Supply, and Public Works Departments. He added that:

The Skytop Facility provides the Station not only with an excellent ballistic performance evaluation capability but also with the capability for testing the performance of thrust-vectoring systems of the Polaris weapon.38

In 1962 China Lake would construct a microwave link between Skytop and the IBM 7090 mainframe computer in Michelson Laboratory, thus allowing the 7090 to perform high-speed, real-time control of test firings at Skytop.39

The “thrust-vectoring systems” to which Blenman alluded in his dedication speech at Skytop were another important China Lake contribution to the Navy’s strategic capability. When the Special Projects Office requested in 1960 that NOTS attain a vertical testing capability, it was “to be used for testing Polaris A-3 thrust-vector-control schemes under development by several agencies.”40

Skytop static firing test of large composite-propellant motor….

158 In Magnificent Mavericks, 479-480, Babcock wrote, “Throughout his distinguished naval career, he sent work to China Lake and supported that work with the necessary funding. As technical director of the Polaris Missile Program, he also sponsored underwater-launch test facilities at San Clemente Island and the Skytop propulsion-test stand, the nation’s largest static test facility, at China Lake.” …

With the development of a more powerful (and more reliable) rocket motor, NOTS was able to increase the range of BOMROC to 18,000 yards. The momentum of the project increased with growing military involvement in Vietnam; by 1968 BOMROC was in limited production as a result of an accelerated program in support of the needs in Southeast Asia.87

A problem common to RAP and BOMROC resulted from the high rate of spin while the rocket motors were burning. The spin caused a whirlpool effect in which the burning propellant bored a hole in the forward wall of the case. Improper burning was causing problems ranging from bad ballistics to ruptured motor cases. A private contractor was hired to X-ray the burning motors while they were spinning at 300 revolutions per second on a specially constructed static firing stand. The X-rays revealed that a gas vortex caused by the spinning was drilling through the propellant. The owner of the X-ray equipment was offered a job at China Lake, and he declined. However, his operator, Donald Jon Rogerson, accepted a position with the base. According to Ray Miller, who was head of Code 45’s Development Engineering Branch at that period, “Jon Rogerson stayed on and developed that capability for the Skytop people, many times improved over that original system.”88

Once engineers understood the nature of the gas vortex problem, they could devise a solution. Raymond W. Feist, David W. Carpenter, Ron Vetter, Bill Thielbahr, Jack Yeakey, Lonnie Pauls, and Danny Meraz, all from the Propulsion Development Department, developed an ingenious diffuser system that drained burned propellant gasses (at temperatures of 6,000°F) to two centrally located nozzles. “The drain system, or diffuser, is pretty well destroyed after the sustainer propellant has finished burning,” Carpenter reported, “but by that time it has done its job.”89…

At Skytop, the $1.3-million Liquid Propulsion Testing Facility, 2 years in construction, had just opened. It consolidated farflung facilities in Area R to a single site on “the hill.” The new test bay was capable of handing sustained thrusts of 0.25 million pounds and instantaneous thrust of 1.25 mllion pounds.4

Two months earlier, the 10,071-square-foot Warhead Research and Development Laboratory, with a nearby 2,600-square-foot test-firing chamber, opened for business. Located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Pole Line and Water Roads, north of Mainside, the new facility co-located elements of three departments: the Weapons Development Department’s Weapons Range, Air Augmentation Facility, Weapons Safety Test Range, and Static Test Facility, for example). Then there are the names by which these assets are known to everyone on the base (respectively, for those just listed, B-4 Range, Burro Canyon, T Range, CT-4, and Skytop). The connection between the two names is seldom intuitive.

3 “The Navy’s Top Handyman,” LIFE, 6 Jan 1967, 31. 4 Rocketeer, 6 Jan 1967, 1.
16 James Baar and William Howard, Polaris!, Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1960, 68–69; S-117, Frank Knemeyer interview, 20 Feb 1981, 27….
35 Rocketeer, 23 Sept 1960, 1, 4. Many years later China Lake’s Jon Rogerson would develop a facility capable of X-raying full-size rocket motors (up to the size of the Space Shuttle boosters) during static firing. 36 NOTS Command History 1959, 7–8; NOTS Command History 1961, 9. 37 NOTS Command History 1961, 10.
38 Rocketeer, 24 Nov 1961, 1. 39 NOTS Command History 1962, 11. 40 NOTS Command History 1961, 9.
85 Rocketeer, 24 Sept 1965, 1. 86 Rocketeer, 1 Nov 1963, 1, 4. 87 NWC TS 67-259, Naval Weapons Center Silver Anniversary, Publishing Division, Technical Information Department, Oct 1968, 11.

Very long official book found here: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/1056938.pdf

Was considered but available public records say not chosen:
U.S. Studies 4 Desert Bases as Nuclear Missile Sites“, By SCOTT HARRIS
Times Staff Writer, LA Times https://archive.li/78GNw