Firefly Aerospace launches the Space Force mission in 27 hours


Firefly Aerospace has just set a new launch record. The Alpha rocket took off from the Vandenberg Space Base at 02:28 GMT on September 15th for the US Space Force mission called Victus Nox. Firefly ‘s rocket launched from the platform in just 27 hours after the US Space Force initiated the mission.

Victus Nox Mission

“The success of Victus Nox marks a cultural shift in our nation’s ability to deter aggression. When called upon, respond with the operational speed required to provide decisive capabilities to our fighters” said Lieutenant General Michael Guetlein, Commander of Space Forces.

“This exercise is part of an end-to-end space demonstration of tactical response. It demonstrates that the US Space Force can quickly integrate capabilities and respond to aggression when called upon with tactically relevant timing” added Guetlein. ictus Nox mission began in September 2022. Space Force awarded contracts to Firefly and Millennium Space Systems, which handled the mission’s payload.

Reaction time to launch was more important than any data collected from Victus Nox. The mission showcased the new capabilities that the US military is eager to implement. “This mission will demonstrate the ability of the United States to rapidly place an asset in orbit when and where we need it. We ensure that we can increase our space capabilities with very little notice” said Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie Birchenough of SSC (ref.) in a statement last year.

Hot Standby

On August 30th of this year, Firefly and Millennium entered the “hot standby” phase of the mission (ref.). This is a six-month period during which they could receive a launch notice at any time. After receiving the notice, Millennium and Firefly would have 60 hours to prepare the rocket. The alert came recently, and the mission teams met their ambitious timing.

“After activation, the spacecraft was transported 266 kilometers from Millennium’s El Segundo facility to Vandenberg Space Base. Here 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” Space Force officials said.

The teams then awaited the launch order, which would provide them with the orbital requirements for Victus Nox. After the order, they had to update Alpha’s trajectory, guidance software, encapsulate the satellite, move the payload to the platform, mate it with Alpha, and prepare for launch. The teams also handled this task. Firefly was ready to launch as soon as the first window opened, which was 27 hours after the Space Force initiated the mission.

FireFly’s Advancements

“Challenging missions like this are where Firefly excels. We are honored and proud to provide the nation with the critical capability to launch on demand in support of national security” said Firefly CEO Bill Weber. “Together with our mission partners, we will set a new standard. We aim to demonstrate that nominal launch operations can be completed in a matter of hours rather than weeks or months” he added. The speed goals of Victus Nox did not end with the successful liftoff. The teams now aim to activate the satellite within 48 hours of its deployment.

Launch of Victus Nox was only the third for Firefly’s Alpha rocket. Rocket failed on its debut launch in September 2021. It successfully placed seven satellites into orbit on its second flight in October 2022. However, it apparently deployed them at a lower altitude than planned, leading to early re-entries for the payloads.

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