Tuesday, October 26, 2021

U.S. Space Force demonstrates quick, flexible satellite launch capabilities

The U. S. Space Force successfully demonstrated quick, flexible satellite launch capabilities using the Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket.

According to a recent service news release, Space Force launched the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base on June 13 at 4:11 a.m. EDT, delivering a technology demonstration satellite to Low Earth Orbit.

Once the “Stargazer” L-1011 carrier aircraft reached launch altitude, the Pegasus air-launched three-staged rocket launched at approximately 40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, beginning its successful flight carrying TacRL-2 to its intended orbit.

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“This Pegasus launch was a clear demonstration of our team’s ability to provide rapid and responsive operational needs,” said Rich Straka, vice president, launch vehicles, Northrop Grumman. “Our team was able to execute the design, integration and testing of the TacRL-2 launch vehicle in less than four months from contract award.”

The TacRL-2 mission was executed by the Small Launch and Targets Division within the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise, in partnership with SMC’s Space Safari Office, and launched a satellite built and operated by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Space Dynamics Laboratory.

During a six-month standby period, a notice to launch was executed and the satellite launched several weeks later, exercising Concept of Operations, tactics, techniques and procedures required of a responsive launch.

“I am very pleased with the success of this tactical launch demonstrating rapid and responsive technologies, and what it means for the continuous Space Force support to the warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief, Small Launch and Targets Division. “The team completed the launch vehicle design, build, integration and testing in only four months from contract award, and then executed the launch within a few weeks of call-up.”

From the F-18 Chase Plane, photos of the Pegasus XL CYGNSS during its first launch attempt on 12/12/2016, ending in a scrub of the mission for the day.

TacRL-2 was the first mission supported by SMC’s new Space Safari Program Office. Space Safari rapidly integrates mature technology and systems to quickly respond to specialized space needs.

For TacRL-2, Space Safari successfully demonstrated their end-to-end approach to tactically responsive missions by acquiring and integrating the space vehicle, launch vehicle, payloads and ground elements in record time, as well as conducting on-orbit planning and operator training.

This mission was a first-of-its-kind effort that has already identified several constraints and lessons learned. The USSF will use this information to improve upcoming TacRL missions with the Space Safari office planned to launch in 2022 and 2023. Tactically Responsive Launch is the first step toward the USSF acquiring a tactical space mobility and logistics capability to support combatant command’s future requirements for tactical spacepower.

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Executive Editor

About this Author

Colton Jones
Colton Jones is technology editor for Defenсe Blog. He has written about emerging technology in military magazines and elsewhere.

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