Pegasus XL rocket launches secretive ‘space domain awareness’ satellite for US Space Force

A Northrop Grumman rocket efficiently launched a secretive Space Force satellite for “space domain awareness” — or detecting synthetic objects in orbit — on Sunday (June 13) in a speedy response mission for the U.S. navy.

A Northrop Grumman L-1011 provider plane took off from the newly renamed Vandenberg Space Force Base and flew out over the Pacific Ocean, the place it launched the a strong gasoline Pegasus XL rocket carrying the brand new satellite at 4:11 a.m. EDT (1:11 a.m. PDT/0811 GMT). Vandenberg officers confirmed the success of the launch in a Facebook statement

The mission known as Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) and is a part of a program acknowledged by Air Force from not less than 2019. In its biennial report of that year, Air Force acknowledged its rocket techniques launch program is “developing a tactically responsive launch capability” via awarding Pegasus XL rocket launches to Northrop Grumman. 

“Team V successfully launched the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 mission. A demonstration of a speed, agility, and flexibility in space launch,” Vandenberg officers wrote in a press release. “Showing that space assets can be placed in orbit faster than standards timelines, this launch showcases the talent, dedication, and flexibility of Team V.” The Space Force and Northrop Grumman didn’t present a reside webcast of the launch.

Related: Atlas V launches SBIRS Geo-5 missile warning satellite for Space Force

As of 2019, program necessities state Northrop Grumman will need to have “launch vehicle readiness” in 4 months after which put the launch car on standby “with a 21-day call-up to launch capability,” Air Force added within the biennial report.

TacRL-2 and different launches of its sort are a part of Space Force’s push to supply extra versatile small launch companies, known as “responsive launch.” The mission was constructed by Space Safari, a brand new navy entity that “responds to high-priority, urgent space needs” via a speedy acquisition and execution course of, in line with Space Force.

“Space Safari’s initial mission is to plan, acquire and deliver a specialized space capability with the ability to integrate and launch within just weeks of a ‘Go!’ order,” Col. Dennis Bythewood, director of particular packages, stated in a Space Force release on Thursday (June 10) saying the institution of a Space Safari program workplace.

“Where most space vehicles take years to deliver, and launches are similarly planned years in advance, this ability to quickly integrate and launch will result in greatly enhanced capabilities,” Bythewood added.

Space Safari was modeled after a rapid-response Air Force group nicknamed “Big Safari”, and extra correctly often called the 645th Aeronautical Systems Group. Big Safari was based in 1952 to centralize the Air Force’s covert surveillance in the course of the Cold War, according to the U.S. Air Force.

Gen. John Raymond, Space Force’s chief of space operations, spoke about Space Safari’s mandate throughout a Council on Foreign Relations webcast occasion Thursday (June 10), SpaceNews reported

“A year ago I challenged our acquisition organization to develop a capability in tactical timelines, integrate it onto a launch vehicle and launch it, and let’s see how fast we can do it,” Raymond stated, including, “In less than a year they took satellite components off the shelf, married them up with a satellite bus that was off the shelf, and put them together in a space domain awareness satellite.”

Northrop Grumman acquired the launch contract below an almost $1 billion, nine-year procurement program from 2019 often called Orbital Services Program-4, SpaceNews added. The procurement permits for process orders for particular necessities; federal contracting data exhibits that the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center awarded Northrop Grumman the TacRL-2 process order in July 2020, according to SpaceFlightNow.

In February, Space Force launched a new procurement request for successor Tactically Responsive Launch proposals, together with TacRL-3 in April 2022 and TacRL-4 in February 2023. Space Force additionally alluded to the procurement in its Thursday press release.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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