WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force announced that Firefly Aerospace successfully launched a Millennium Space small satellite Sept. 14 — a mission designed to demonstrate capabilities to launch in a much shorter timeline than is typical for national security missions. 

The Space Force mission, known as Victus Nox, flew on a Firefly Alpha rocket. It lifted off at 7:28 p.m. Pacific from Space Launch Complex 2 West at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, the Space Systems Command said in a news release.

At government request, Firefly did not livestream the launch.

“In a major advancement of Tactically Responsive Space capabilities, Space Systems Command and Firefly Aerospace successfully encapsulated a Millennium Space Systems-built space vehicle, mated it to Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle, and completed all final launch preparations in 24 hours,” the command said.

Firefly and Millennium last year were selected for the Victus Nox mission. The companies on Aug. 30 announced they were on “hot standby,” awaiting an alert notification from the Space Force. After getting the alert, the companies had a 60-hour window to transport the payload to Firefly’s launch site at Vandenberg, conduct fueling operations, and integrate it with the Alpha rocket’s payload adapter.

“Upon activation, the space vehicle was transported 165 miles from Millennium’s El Segundo facility to Vandenberg Space Force Base 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,” said Space Systems Command.

Ready for the first launch window

After the Space Force gave Firefly the final call to launch and orbit parameters, the company had 24 hours to update the trajectory, encapsulate the payload, transport it to the pad and stand ready to launch at the first available window.

“Liftoff took place at the first available launch window, 27 hours after receipt of launch orders, setting a new record for responsive space launch,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command. 

“This exercise is part of an end-to-end tactically responsive space demonstration which proves the United States Space Force can rapidly integrate capabilities and will respond to aggression when called to do so on tactically relevant timelines,” Guetlein said.

Victus Nox was Firefly’s third launch. As part of this mission, the company said it tested an Alpha stage two relight and targeted re-entry.

The responsive space program is run by the Space Systems Command’s Space Safari Program Office and the Rocket Systems Launch Program.

“Now on orbit, the next objective is to initialize the space vehicle and begin operations in under 48 hours,” said Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, Space Safari materiel leader. 

The previous responsive space mission was launched on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus in June 2021.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...