February 23, 2024
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Vandenberg sets new speed record for rapid launch

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Liftoff of Firefly’s Alpha rocket took place Sept. 14. (courtesy photo)

Vandenberg Space Force Base has set a new speed record to launch a satellite into orbit if ever a national security threat demands one.

After receipt of orders last week, all final payload operations and launch preparations were completed by Texas-based Firefly Aerospace in 24 hours. 

Liftoff of Firefly’s Alpha rocket took place Sept. 14 at the first available launch window, 27 hours after receipt of the orders for a responsive launch.

An attached satellite, built by El Segundo-based Boeing subsidiary Millennium Space Systems, was deployed into low Earth orbit at a target destination.

The previous record for a responsive space launch was 21 days, set on June 13, 2021, base officials said.

Firefly Aerospace and Millennium Space Systems were awarded contracts less than a year ago, according to Vandenberg.

The mission, known as Victus Nox, Latin for “conquer the night,” was led by the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command in close partnership with the Rocket Systems Launch Program, Firefly said.

Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command, said in a press release that the Tactically Responsive Space demonstration “proves that the United States Space Force can rapidly integrate capabilities and will respond to aggression when called to do so on tactically relevant timelines.

“The success of Victus Nox marks a culture shift in our nation’s ability to … respond with the operational speed necessary to deliver decisive capabilities to our warfighters,” he said.

Long before receiving the launch order, Millennium Space Systems and Firefly Aerospace had entered a “hot standby” phase, awaiting notification from Space Force leadership to activate, not knowing when that would come. 

Upon activation, the satellite was transported 165 miles from Millennium’s El Segundo facility to Vandenberg, where it was tested, fueled, and mated to the launch adapter in just under 58 hours, significantly faster than the typical timeline of weeks or months. 

With the launch time, date and final orbital parameters unknown, the team then stood on alert, awaiting the call to launch. Once it did, all the final launch preparations and the launch itself were done in the record-setting 27 hours.

The mission “was an incredible success for the Space Force, the Firefly team, and our nation after nailing this complex responsive space mission,” Firefly CEO Bill Weber said in a press release.

“Our combined commercial and government team executed the mission with record speed, agility, and flexibility, adding a critical capability to address national security needs,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., praised the mission in a Sept. 15 statement.

Victus Nox “represents an important step in our nation’s expanding capabilities in space,” she said.

“The whole team, Millennium, Firefly, Space Force and Vandenberg demonstrated a new capability of our nation to respond to a crisis in space in a very short window — something that would’ve been deemed impossible just a few years ago.,” Feinstein said.

The launch was Vandenberg’s 32nd in just over a year.

Space Systems Command, the U.S. Space Force’s field command, is responsible for acquiring and delivering resilient warfighting capabilities to protect the nation’s strategic advantage in and from space, according to the base.

It manages a $15 billion space acquisition budget for the Defense Department and works in partnership with joint forces, industry, government agencies, academic and allied organizations to accelerate innovation and outpace emerging threats.

email: mharris@pacbiztimes.com