WASHINGTON — A U.S. Space Force mission scheduled to launch June 13 on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket is a monitoring satellite intended to provide “space domain awareness,” chief of space operations Gen. John Raymond said June 10.

The mission named TacRL-2 is a technology demonstration satellite for the Space Force’s tactically responsive launch program, an effort to figure out ways to shrink the timelines for planning space missions. Raymond said the satellite was developed in less than a year and the launch provider was given 21 days notice to get ready for the flight. 

“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 said on a webcast event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

He said the satellite was built by a new organization called “Space Safari” modeled after the Air Force’s Big Safari program started during the Cold War for special-mission aircraft. 

“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,” said Raymond. The launch was awarded to Northrop Grumman under the Orbital Services Program-4.

TacRL-2 will be air-launched on a solid-fueled Pegasus XL rocket released from a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar carrier aircraft. The mission is scheduled to fly to low Earth orbit approximately at 1:11 AM Pacific from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.  The Space Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $28 million contract for this launch.

What is Space Safari?

Space Safari, the office that handled the development of the TacRL-2 satellite, was recently stood up by the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Special Programs Directorate.

It was created to respond to “high-priority, urgent space needs,” SMC said in a statement. “Space Safari uses mature technology and existing production lines to quickly repurpose and integrate space assets from multiple organizations.”

Col. Dennis Bythewood, SMC’s director of special programs said: “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 for America’s Space Force.”

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...