US Space Force to attempt to replace a damaged satellite in less than 24 hours

The US Space Force is preparing an audacious mission to try and replace a damaged satellite in under 24 hours to guard against new threats.
John Loeffler
A Firefly Aerospace launch at twilight
A Firefly Aerospace launch at twilight

Firefly Aerospace 

The US Space Force is planning a rather bold mission to attempt to replace a damaged satellite with less than 24 hours' notice, a readiness exercise it says is the future of space engagements.

While the space force doesn't have fancy fighter crafts like you see in movies, it does have a whole lot of satellites under its command, and these satellites have been essential to keeping American military intelligence tapped into what's happening anywhere in the world.

It's one of the things that make them such inviting targets, with Russia, China, and others demonstrating a capacity to literally blow satellites out of orbit. Were such a thing to happen in the middle of a conflict, Pentagon leaders would be blind to enemy movements, areas of concern, and the conditions of US servicemembers in a conflict zone.

As such, and damaged satellite would need to be replaced as soon as possible, not the usual months-long planning cycle that normally accompanies satellite launches.

The upcoming mission, called Victus Nox or "conquer the night" in Latin, will test the space force's capability to replace a damaged satellite when it's needed, and it has partnered with Firefly Aerospace and Millennium Space Systems to make it happen.

The mission will see a satellite from Millennium Space Systems launched on a Firefly rocket, and unlike previous missions to assess readiness, this attempt, known officially as Tactically Responsive Launch-3, will be the first to have a ground-based rocket deliver a satellite payload into space directly.

When the mission will launch isn't known (we imagine that part of the operational plan is to not tip off Firefly and Millennium Space Systems in advance), but Firefly says its ready whenever it gets the call.

"Our next launch, FLTA003, will support the @SpaceForceDoD responsive space mission, VICTUS NOX," the company tweeted out. "We’re in the final integration of our Alpha rocket and will soon stand ready for the 24-hour call-up. We’re honored to work with this incredible team! #PartnersInSpace."

For Millennium Space Systems' part, they have a bit more time, but only just. Once it gets the nod from the space force, the company will have just 60 hours to transport a satellite about 170 miles from a Millennium Space Systems's factory in El Segunda, California, to Vandenberg Space Force Base, where Firefly will then have 24 hours to get the satellite into orbit.

“Everything about this mission is exciting and challenging, from the rapid eight-month delivery of a satellite to the activation phases,” Dana Carroll, from Millennium Space Systems, told Gizmodo. “We have a small team dedicated to Victus Nox. Sixty hours is not a lot of time so you need to have the right people on hand that understand truly any discrepancy and can disposition it immediately.”

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