Space Force successfully launches second Falcon Heavy mission

By Michael Marrow / January 17, 2023 at 2:08 PM

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying military payloads blasted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, FL on Jan. 15, marking the second Falcon Heavy launch for the Space Force.

The mission, dubbed USSF-67, carried two spacecraft to geosynchronous orbit, Space Systems Command said in a Jan. 16 press release announcing the successful launch.

“We’re certainly on a roll with 96 consecutive successful national security space launches, and the takeaway is that we’ve really got a spectacular team working together on our most challenging launch profiles to ensure our mission partners get on orbit with confidence,” Program Executive Officer for Assured Access to Space Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy said in the release.

According to Space Systems Command, the first space vehicle, called Continuous Broadcast Augmenting Satellites Communications (CBAS), is a satellite that will supplement existing SATCOM relay capabilities “in support of our senior leaders and combatant commanders.”

A Long Duration Propulsive Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Secondary Payload Adapter, or LDPE, was the second spacecraft mounted on the rocket. Based on Northrop Grumman’s ESPAStar platform, the spacecraft carried two satellites for SSC and three for the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (SpRCO).

“From conception and development of next-generation space technology, like ESPAStar, to on-orbit command and control, we are prepared to support the full lifecycle of our customer’s missions throughout the ever-evolving threat environment,” Vice President for National Security Systems Troy Brashear said in a Northrop Grumman press release.

According to Space News, the two SSC satellites, called Catcher and WASSAT, are prototypes that will respectively study space domain awareness capabilities and track other objects in orbit.

Meanwhile, the three SpRCO satellites “include two operational prototypes for enhanced situational awareness, and an operational prototype crypto/interface encryption payload providing secure space-to-ground communications capability,” SSC said in the release.

Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear said in September 2022 that SpRCO’s satellites are “highly classified” prototypes and systems, though an official previously stated SpRCO is only interested in procuring mature capabilities.

The Jan. 15 Falcon Heavy mission is the second for the service following a successful launch on Nov. 1, which similarly carried payloads to geosynchronous orbit. Mounted on that rocket as well was an LDPE spacecraft, which SSC said in the Jan. 16 press release “will continue to provide access to space for multiple DOD space Science & Technology (S&T) demonstration experiments.”