WASHINGTON — U.S. Space Force officials said they are refining their understanding of what it means to quickly react to threats that impact operational satellites as the service prepares for its second Tactically Responsive Space mission this summer, dubbed Victus Nox.
The service last September issued contracts for Victus Nox to Boeing subsidiary Millennium Space Systems to build a satellite and ground system and Firefly Aerospace to launch the mission, which will demonstrate the ability to produce and deliver a spacecraft in about eight months and fly it on short notice.
Brig. Gen. Tim Sejba, program executive officer for space domain awareness and combat power, said April 4 that Victus Nox will help the service further define what it means to be responsive during a conflict or crisis in space.
“The challenge that we have . . . is that from the time we are given the go, we are supposed to have that capability on orbit in 24 hours,” Sejba said during the Mitchell Institutes Spacepower Security Forum in Arlington, Virginia. “That is really going to test the entire part of the system. That’s going to test responsive launch, it’s going to test our ability to encapsulate, stack, launch and then have it in operations with an operational crew on the receiving end of that.”
The Space Force is crafting an acquisition strategy for Tactically Responsive Space at the urging of lawmakers. Since fiscal 2020, the service has relied on Congress to appropriate money for the effort, but for the first time, its FY24 budget includes $30 million for the program –— a sign it’s making progress on its plan to utilize the capability.
In a quest to be specific about what “responsive space” means to the Space Force, Sejba said the service has identified two areas where the concept could be most helpful: characterizing threats and augmenting existing satellites and sensors with additional capabilities.
There are several ways the service can do this, but Sejba said it has landed on three approaches. One is similar to the Victus Nox approach — taking satellites or sensors available on the ground and launching them on demand.
A second option is to take advantage of commercial systems already in space that might meet the Space Force’s needs, whether it’s satellite communications or tactical ISR.
“There’s certainly a lot of commercial capabilities today . . . that would be able to provide either additional capability to respond to a potential crisis in [low Earth orbit] or even augment some of the capabilities that we have from a government perspective,” he said. “I think that’s the first piece that we have to always look at as the No. 1 choice.”
Another alternative is to store spare satellites in space so they’re already on hand in a time of need. Sejba said some large commercial constellations have already taken this approach, launching extra spacecraft so that if another satellite fails, they have a backup in place.
“We’re already seeing Tactically Responsive Space play out in proliferated architectures,” he said. “We’re looking at how do we enhance that.”
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.