U.S. Space Force successfully concludes VICTUS NOX Tactically Responsive Space mission

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  • By SSC Space Safari
The U.S. Space Force’s VICTUS NOX on-orbit mission has successfully concluded.

From acquisition to on-orbit operations, the historic mission set a new standard for Tactically Responsive Space (TacRS) by demonstrating an end-to-end capability to rapidly respond to adversary aggression. From the time the mission was conceived, the VICTUS NOX team seamlessly executed each phase of the effort: Build, Hot-Standby, Activation, Alert, Launch, Initialization, and On-orbit Operations. 

“From the warehouse to on-orbit capability in a week. That’s tactically responsive,” said U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman during a fireside chat last October. “That is something that you can respond to irresponsible behavior on-orbit and the response is directly connected to that irresponsible behavior.”

The Build Phase culminated with a Flight Readiness Review less than one year after contracts were awarded to Firefly Aerospace and Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing Company. In that time, the spacecraft was pulled from an active production line, modified with an additional space domain awareness (SDA) payload and readied for launch. 

In addition, all of the normal processes associated with the launch of a satellite - such as spectrum assignment, or the process of assigning a particular frequency or band to a communications device; authority to operate approvals; and launch and space vehicle certifications - were completed. After the Build Phase was complete, the team entered the Hot-Standby Phase waiting on the call to activate.

On Sept. 8, 2023, the team was ordered to execute the Activation Phase and completed it within 57 hours, beating the 60-hour goal. After the call came, the team transported the spacecraft from the factory to the launch site payload processing facility, fueled the vehicle, and conducted final testing. The mission then entered the Alert Phase. 

On Sept. 13, 2023, with no prior notice, the Space Force provided the final orbit parameters and ordered the team to launch. The Launch Phase met its goal of being ready for launch within 24 hours, with liftoff taking place at the first available launch window, 27 hours after receipt of the launch order. After reaching orbit, it took only 37 hours to complete the Initialization Phase, once again beating the 48-hour goal. Once on-orbit operations began, the VICTUS NOX team quickly completed multiple maneuvers to conduct rendezvous and proximity operations and SDA. 

The VICTUS NOX on-orbit operations team was comprised of members from multiple organizations across the Space Force. Personnel from the Space Delta 12’s (DEL 12) 3rd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Schriever Space Force Base led the initial on-orbit operations with a team to include members from Space Safari, the USSF’s Tactically Response Space lead; 20th Space Surveillance Squadron, a unit within Space Delta 2 (DEL 2) -- Space Domain Awareness and Space Battle Management; and partners Millenium Space Systems and the Aerospace Corporation.

Additionally, the team received on-orbit tracking and collision avoidance support from DEL 2’s 18th Space Defense Squadron and 19th Space Defense Squadron at Peterson Space Force Base throughout the effort. DEL 2, one of nine mission deltas under Space Operations Command, leads the operational Space Domain Awareness mission on behalf of the Space Force and uses the Space Battle Management warfighting discipline to identify, characterize, and exploit opportunities and mitigate vulnerabilities in the national security space terrain.   

“I couldn’t be prouder of the test and operational support the entire Space Delta 2 team provided for this game-changing mission,” said Col. Raj Agrawal, commander of DEL 2. “We quickly rose to the challenge and demonstrated that Tactically Responsive Space missions like VICTUS NOX are capable of meeting urgent Combatant Commander needs on tactically relevant timelines during Great Power Competition.” 

After the initial on-orbit objectives were complete, Space Safari concluded the mission with SDA operations in the spacecraft’s final orbit. USSF/SSC missions are purposely designed to include end-of-life disposal for satellites, in order to reduce orbital debris and keep space accessible for all.

“Achieving VICTUS NOX’s ambitious objectives was truly a team effort,” said Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, materiel leader of Space Safari. “We were fortunate to have such skilled Space Force and industry partners who executed each phase with expertise and ultimately ensured mission success.” 

VICTUS NOX has laid a significant foundation that the U.S. Space Force will continue to build upon in order to normalize TacRS operations. The next demonstration, VICTUS HAZE, is expected to be awarded in the coming weeks.