As part of its efforts to become more agile in space, the U.S. military is asking satellite and launch companies to increase the “readiness” of their ability to launch spacecraft into space.
Fundamentally, militaries are concerned that other countries will damage or destroy their assets in orbit during a conflict. Military officials believe one way to prevent this is to have the ability to quickly replace these satellites, whether for espionage, communications or other purposes.
The U.S. Space Force took a step toward this goal two years ago with a mission called Tacally Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2). The small satellite was built in less than a year by combining existing components to create a space domain awareness satellite. The mission was then launched within 21 days of his launch on June 13, 2021, by a solid-fuel Pegasus rocket manufactured by Northrop Grumman.
Victus Nox takes flight
With its latest endeavor in tactically responsive launches, the Space Force takes another big step forward. It has signed a contract with American launch company Firefly to launch a spacecraft called Victus Knox into orbit within 24 hours of receiving the go-ahead order from the military.
At the end of August, the Victus-Knox mission entered a so-called “hot standby phase,” a six-month period in which satellite manufacturer Millennium Space Systems and launch provider Firefly Aerospace waited for a launch order.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Space Command directed the companies to leave. After this point, Firefly encapsulated the Millennium satellite in its payload fairing and mated to Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle, completing all final launch preparations. The small launch vehicle then successfully lifted off from Space Launch Complex 2 West at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, at 7:28 p.m. local time (02:28 Friday UTC).
Both companies achieved their goal of being “ready to launch” within 24 hours, bringing the total time from receipt of the go command to launch to 27 hours, a previous record set two years ago with the first tactically capable launch. far exceeded.
“The success of Victus Knox marks a cultural shift in our nation’s ability to respond at the operational speed necessary to deter enemy aggression and, if necessary, provide decisive capabilities to warfighters. ” said Lt. Gen. Michael Getlein, Space Systems Commander. The command said in a statement released early Friday morning. “This exercise is part of an end-to-end tactical response space demonstration that demonstrates the U.S. Space Force’s ability to rapidly integrate capabilities and respond to an invasion if called upon within a tactically relevant timeline. It is.”
Millennium and the U.S. Space Force now aim to launch the spacecraft within 48 hours of reaching orbit.
The launch was a significant accomplishment for Texas-based company Firefly, which attempted its first Alpha rocket launch in September 2021. The rocket was lost two and a half minutes into its flight when one of its four main engines failed. . The Alpha rocket then partially failed during its second attempt in October 2022, when its second stage placed seven small satellites into orbits lower than their intended orbits. Most satellites reentered Earth orbit within a few days of launch.
The Victus Knox mission was only the Alpha rocket’s third flight, and both the company and the Space Force say the Victus Knox satellite was actually placed into its target orbit.
“Today marks an incredible milestone for the Space Force, the Firefly team, and our nation as we successfully completed this complex, responsive space mission,” Firefly Aerospace CEO Bill Weber said in a statement. It was a success.” “Our commercial and government teams have executed missions with record speed, agility and flexibility, adding critical capabilities to address national security needs.”
Following this success, Firefly now plans to ramp up production of its Alpha rocket, which can transport approximately 1 metric ton into low Earth orbit, to increase the mission’s operational cadence. Perhaps next will be the launch of some CubeSats for NASA. That mission could take place later this year or early 2024.
First, 1 ton
Alpha was the first commercially developed U.S. rocket to lift approximately 1 ton into orbit. For the past five years or so, it has competed in lanes with Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket and ABL Space’s RS 1 vehicle.
The RS1 vehicle debuted in January 2023, but broke down shortly after launch. A second demonstration flight could take place from Alaska later this year or in early 2024.
Relativity Space flew its first and only Terran 1 rocket in March. During this flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the first stage performed as expected, with nominal stage spacing. However, at 2 minutes and 48 seconds into the flight, two seconds after the second stage ion engines ignited, the engines failed to reach maximum thrust. Relativity Space then announced that it would shift its focus to a larger launch vehicle, the Terran R.