Space Force wants to launch satellites faster than anyone has ever attempted

Space Force wants to launch satellites faster than anyone has ever attempted

Firefly's Alpha rocket delivering payloads to orbit on October 3, 2022.

Firefly’s Alpha rocket delivering payloads to orbit on October 3, 2022.
Image: Firefly

The prospect of losing critically important satellites during the war led to “Victus Nox” – a rapid response experiment in which private Space Force partners will have to launch a satellite within 24 hours of receiving the order “go”.

The concept is known as “tactically responsive space” (TacRS), and it’s a capability that Congress wanna the Space Force to have. The ability to perform rapid launch rotations, both in terms of payload and rocket readiness, would be extremely advantageous in the event of a national emergency, such as an adversary shooting down a critical satellite during war. The Pentagon announced its desire for TacRS in 2019, saying the ultimate goal is “24 hours from call notification to in-orbit capability”. The idea itself traced back to 2005.

To make this idea a reality, Space Systems Command’s Space Safari office, which is set up to respond to “priority and urgent space needs“, performs a reactive space demonstration in which a satellite will be “deployed on an operationally relevant timeline”, according to an SSC press release. The experiment is called “Victus Nox”, Latin for “conquer the night”, and it should take place next year.

Space Force’s first TacRS demo occurred in June 2021, when a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket carrying an experimental space domain reconnaissance satellite was launched from the company’s specially modified site star gazer Aircraft L-1011. Space Force sees bigger for Victus Nox, because it wants a rocket, not an airplane, to deliver a payload to low Earth orbit. To this end, Space Force has signed contracts with Millennium Space and Firefly Aerospace, both of which must demonstrate that they are capable of fulfilling their respective responsibilities on short notice.

“This end-to-end mission will demonstrate the United States’ ability to rapidly place an asset into orbit when and where we need it, ensuring we can increase our space capabilities with very little notice,” said Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough. , responsible for Space Safari hardware, in the SSC press release.

Millennium Space, a subsidiary of Boeing, won the contract on August 15, and it will have to provide a small satellite bus equipped with a space domain awareness sensor, in addition to overseeing operations in orbit. “The primary objective of the mission is to bring a satellite into operation in a tactically relevant timeframe to demonstrate a credible response to emerging threats in orbit,” Millennium Space said in a statement. statement.

For the experiment, Millennium will pull a satellite off its production line, modify it for the mission, and then deliver it to Space Force within eight months. The task of providing a satellite for launch usually takes years.

“Once given the go-ahead from Space Force Leadership, the goal is to reunite the satellite and launch vehicle, mate, encapsulate, launch and place in low Earth orbit within 24 hours.” The satellite will likely be used to locate and track other satellites and space junk that pose potential threats to US assets in orbit.

Firefly, which signed its contract Sept. 29, is to provide one-time launch service in calendar year 2023 on the Victus Nox TacRS mission. The Texas-based rocket company’s contract is the penalty $17.6 million, while Millennium’s value is unknown.

The preparation time of a rocket depends on various factors, such as rocket type, launch vendor, mission scope, etc. SpaceX is currently the leader in this regard, as the private company now launches its Falcon 9 rockets about once a week. SpaceX set a new standard for the reusable rocket earlier this year when it launched the same main stage twice in three weeks.

Millennium Space is to deliver the satellite by the end of April. “It’s our deadline to make sure everything is ready to go,” Birchenough said recently SpaceNews, saying the project will then move into a “waiting phase” that could last six months or more. As SpaceNews reports, the timeline is meant to simulate

an actual operation when there would be “indications and warnings” that an attack might occur, Birchenough said. “At some point during this standby phase, we would receive a phone call and Victus Nox would enter a short activation period of approximately 60 hours.”

It is during this 60-hour period that the satellite would be transported to the launch site and integrated into the launch vehicle. “And then we enter an alert phase, which can last a few days or up to a few months.”

The 24-hour call would come during the alert phase, she said. “And after that, we also aim to be mission capable in a very short period of time.”

After Victus Nox, Space Force will continue to develop its tactically responsive space capabilities, drawing on various launch vendors and satellite manufacturers.

In October, Firefly used its The Alpha rocket will deliver three payloads to Earth orbit, becoming the fifth American company to launch a rocket into orbit. That said, the payloads were dropped into a lower orbit than expected, forcing them to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Hopefully the same won’t happen during Victus Nox.

After: Space Force Isn’t Quite What You Think It Is

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