Space Force launches first tactically responsive space mission on Pegasus air-launched rocket

By Courtney Albon / June 14, 2021 at 1:44 PM

The Space Force this weekend launched a space domain awareness satellite from an aircraft -- its first tactically responsive space launch mission and the first capability supported in partnership with its new Space Safari program office.

The technology demonstration mission, TacRL-2, took off Sunday from Vandenberg Space Force Base, CA, on Northrop Grumman's Pegasus commercial space launch vehicle. The three-stage, air-launched rocket was carried aboard the company's modified Stargazer aircraft and released into low Earth orbit.

The launch was managed by the small launch and targets division as well as a new organization within the Space and Missile Systems Center's special programs directorate, Space Safari. Modeled off the Air Force's Big Safari office, Space Safari aims to quickly integrate mature technology to meet specialized needs.

In a press release this weekend, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said the effort was initiated about a year ago when he challenged SMC to demonstrate a responsive launch capability. The team was able to cut the normal timeline from two years to 11 months.

"With this effort, we demonstrated the kind of speed it will take to win," Raymond said. "We executed a '21-day call-up' to get a satellite on orbit -- pulling the payload, mating it with the rocket and integrating the combined package onto the aircraft. Agile, responsive capability development, combined with our ability to rapidly launch and insert capabilities into space where we want, when we want, will deny our competitors the perceived benefits of beginning a conflict in, or extending a conflict to, space."

Space Safari plans to take the lessons it learned from this mission to support future responsive space launch efforts slated for 2022 and 2023.

The satellite itself was built by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Space Dynamics Laboratory.