Firefly launches Space Force’s Victus Nox high-speed mission


The Alpha rocket from the Space Force’s Victus Nox mission stands on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.

Firefly Aerospace

The name says it all: Victus Nox, or, translated from Latin, “conquer the night”.

This is an experimental test of national security capabilities in space and a high-stakes mission for two burgeoning space companies – a crucial chance to prove they can handle the high-speed demands of the US Space Force.

The mission of the Los Angeles-based military team Space Safari is to fly a satellite built by Millennium Space Systems on Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket – in remarkably short time. For Boeing Millennium subsidiary, the mission will be only the 14th satellite flown to date, and for Firefly, this is only the third launch of its rocket.

The challenge of this mission is its unique business requirements, Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, Tactically Responsive Space program manager at Space Safari, told CNBC.

“They don’t know when they’ll get the call for the launch,” she said. “From their perspective, things that normally happen over weeks or months are now reduced to minutes and days.”

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Birchenough and the Tactically Responsive Space, or TacRS, program aims to work with spacecraft and rocket builders to create “the ability to rapidly respond to in-orbit needs” in “very short timeframes.”

Space Force wants to continue pushing the limits of satellites and rockets with more TacRS missions, with its latest budget request calling for $60 million over the next two years for the program.

Victus Nox is a “space domain awareness mission,” Birchenough said, which basically means it’s a satellite intended to track other objects in orbit, as well as predict possible space threats.

“This whole mission is based on what a real-life situation would be and making sure that this operational demonstration is as close to that as possible,” she said.

The Alpha rocket from the Space Force’s Victus Nox mission stands on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.

Firefly Aerospace

Firefly CEO Bill Weber acknowledged that as space becomes increasingly privatized, “it’s not enough to truly call space commercialization ‘reactive'”.

“We don’t have that capability right now for anything other than weapons systems. In space, we don’t have the capability to respond in the short term” to a national security threat or crisis. , Weber said.

Space Force selected Firefly and Millennium for the Victus Nox contract in October, setting off a chain of events beginning with the build phase. Firefly’s contract for the mission is worth $17.6 million, while the value of Millennium’s contract was not disclosed.

Next comes the “hot standby” phase, during which Millennium waits to receive a 60-hour window to deliver the spacecraft from Los Angeles to the launch site at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Then the mission begins an on-call phase, where the teams are on standby, and finally a launch phase, when Space Force gives companies 24 hours to get the rocket and satellite off the ground.

Space Safari aims to build on the success of its last responsive demonstration mission, which flew in June 2021, as well as use the TacRS program to leverage and test more companies.

Birchenough said Space Safari sees this program as a “crawl-walk-run approach,” with initial planning for the next mission underway.

“We push the limits here and take risks,” she added.

The Firefly Opportunity

Millennial momentum

The Victus Nox satellite is undergoing modification work.

Millennium Space

According to Millennium CEO Jason Kim, the Space Safari team came to the company’s production line and said, “Hey, I want one of these spacecraft.”

“The idea is that if you take something off the production line, you don’t have to start from scratch to quickly deploy a tactically responsive space capability to meet an urgent need or augment capabilities that are already in orbit. “, said Kim.

Kim said Millennium modified the Victus Nox satellite in eight months, significantly shorter than the typical 24-36 month process of starting an order from scratch.

The Boeing subsidiary is “very focused” on the national security side of the space market, Kim said, with Victus Nox coming as its latest project to deliver spacecraft “at an affordable price in a timely manner.”

Millennium has placed a strong priority on vertical integration, which Kim says helps the company “control the cost, schedule and quality of those components” in the spacecraft it builds.

“We learn so much from [Victus Nox]and Space Force learns a lot from it,” Kim said.

Once Space Force issues the launch call, Kim said his team will work with Firefly to power and process the spacecraft and integrate it onto the rocket. Once the spacecraft is in orbit, Millennium will check it within 48 hours to show that it is working properly and ready to go.

“It’s this team, this collective team – Space Force, Millennium Space Systems, Firefly – against threats, we don’t see it against each other,” Kim said. “We all have a common goal. And I think that has contributed a lot to the success that we are showing.”

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