Friday, September 15, 2023

Firefly Aerospace Launches Victus Nox Mission

Victus Nox (Latin for "conquer the night") is a US Space Force initiative to have a short response time between notification of a need and the rocket blasting off.  Space Force announced today that the first Victus Nox mission was launched successfully September 14th at 7:28 PM local time from Vandenberg SFB, Complex 2 West.  The companies that achieved the record were Firefly Aerospace for the launch vehicle partnered with Millennium Space Systems which built the payload. 

The rules of the game are that the team is put on a “hot standby,” awaiting an alert notification from the Space Force.  Hot standby can last for up to six months; they were put on standby much more recently than that; August 30th.  At a time the USSF chooses, the launch team will be given a notice that a mission is required and once they get the notice, they have a 60-hour window to transport the payload to Firefly’s launch site at Vandenberg, conduct fueling operations, and integrate it with the Alpha rocket’s payload adapter.  Clearly, the satellite and Alpha rocket have to be built and available.  

“In a major advancement of Tactically Responsive Space capabilities, Space Systems Command and Firefly Aerospace successfully encapsulated a Millennium Space Systems-built space vehicle, mated it to Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle, and completed all final launch preparations in 24 hours,” the command said.

“Upon activation, the space vehicle was transported 165 miles from Millennium’s El Segundo facility to Vandenberg Space Force Base where it was tested, fueled, and mated to the launch adapter in just under 58 hours, significantly faster than the typical timeline of weeks or months,” said Space Systems Command.

At this point, Space Force gave Firefly the final call to launch and the required orbital parameters. The company then had 24 hours to update the trajectory, encapsulate the payload, transport it to the pad and stand ready to launch at the first available window. 

“Liftoff took place at the first available launch window, 27 hours after receipt of launch orders, setting a new record for responsive space launch,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command.

"The success of Victus Nox marks a culture shift in our nation's ability to deter adversary aggression and, when required, respond with the operational speed necessary to deliver decisive capabilities to our warfighters,"

"This exercise is part of an end-to-end Tactically Responsive Space demonstration which proves the United States Space Force can rapidly integrate capabilities and will respond to aggression when called to do so on tactically relevant timelines," Guetlein added.

I should point out that the mission isn't done at this time, and it's a bit more than 10 hours since the launch as I write.  Their next objective is to initialize the satellite and begin operations in under 48 hours.

Let's see... they had  60 hours in the first step and completed it in "just under 58;" then they had to be ready to launch in 24 hours and all we really know is the desired orbit didn't have a launch window for 27 hours.  I'll call it 58+24 or 82 hours.  At this point, Space Force reminds us the previous responsive-launch record was 21 days, set in June 2021 on the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission, which was carried out by a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL air-launched rocket.  Going from around 500 hours down to 82 doesn't make that 3 hours (from 27 to 24) I rounded off up above seem that important.

A Firefly Alpha rocket launched the Victus Nox mission for the U.S. Space Force last night, Sept. 14, 2023, 7:28 PM PDT from Space Launch Complex 2 West at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. Credit: Firefly Aerospace.



  1. Some of my Left Coast friends took pix of it launching. Nice contrail in the setting sun!

  2. I wonder if SpaceX is going to be part of this program, or if they're only going for the small satellite launcher market.

    Good on Firefly.

  3. I recall, correctly or not, a program to use ICBMs to launch small satellites rather than warheads. The example I remember was a small communications satellite in the event a high-level commander determined there was a need for fill-in communications. Sixty hours? More like 60 minutes.

  4. I saw the contrail a few minutes after the launch when walking to the mailbox, about 7:35 local. Took a picture at 7:41. There was clearly some sort of corkscrew motion going on during boost, exaggerated by winds later.

  5. Well, getting there (to orbit) is at least half the fun! Firefly held up their end just fine, so no worries.

    SpaceX has a 51-day rocket turnaround time record, as well as a pad turnaround record time, so it wouldn't be too unusual for SpaceX to be able to accomplish something like this.

    Seems to me that the hardest problem would be is mating the rocket to the payload, and getting a launch window quickly. No?

  6. time-lapse video of the prep and lauch