U.S. Space Force to launch ‘space domain awareness’ satellite on Pegasus rocket

Space

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Space Force mission scheduled to launch June 13 on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket is a monitoring satellite intended to provide “space domain awareness,” chief of space operations Gen. John Raymond said June 10.

The mission named TacRL-2 is a technology demonstration satellite for the Space Force’s tactically responsive launch program, an effort to figure out ways to shrink the timelines for planning space missions. Raymond said the satellite was developed in less than a year and the launch provider was given 21 days notice to get ready for the flight. 

“A year ago I challenged our acquisition organization to develop a capability in tactical timelines, integrate it onto a launch vehicle and launch it, and let’s see how fast we can do it,” Raymond said on a webcast event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

He said the satellite was built by a secretive organization called “Space Safari” modeled after the Air Force’s Big Safari program started during the Cold War for special-mission aircraft. 

“In less than a year they took satellite components off the shelf, married them up with a satellite bus that was off the shelf, and put them together in a space domain awareness satellite,” said Raymond. The launch was awarded to Northrop Grumman under the Orbital Services Program-4.

TacRL-2 will be air-launched on a solid-fueled Pegasus XL rocket released from a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar carrier aircraft. The mission will fly from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. According to SpaceFlightNow.com the $28 million contract to Northrop Grumman was awarded last July but first disclosed in March.

Satellite tracker Marco Langbroek said on Twitter that the lineup of the hazard areas provided in navigational warnings suggest the satellite is being deployed to a polar and likely sun-synchronous orbit.

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