US Space Force awards 'rapid launch' contracts to Firefly, Millennium Space Systems

the triangle-shaped u.s. space force logo
The official logo of the U.S. Space Force. (Image credit: United States Space Force)

The U.S. military has asked two space companies to launch a satellite on short notice.

The U.S. Space Force has awarded contracts to Firefly Aerospace and Boeing subsidiary Millennium Space Systems to mount a mission in 2023 called Victus Nox (Latin for "conquer the night").

"This end-to-end mission will demonstrate the United States' ability to rapidly place an asset on orbit when and where we need it, ensuring we can augment our space capabilities with very little notice," Space Systems Command's Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough said in a statement (opens in new tab)

The Space Force plans to use Victus Nox for "space domain awareness," which is a growing priority of the military as space traffic increases in orbit. Based on that description, the mission will likely help the military find and monitor spacecraft and space debris that could pose a threat to U.S. orbital assets.

Related: US Space Force establishes new unit to track 'threats in orbit'

Firefly is tasked with launching Victus Nox in 2023 using its Alpha rocket, which just delivered its first satellites to orbit on Oct. 1, while Millennium will supply space and ground systems for the mission. (Millennium will build and operate the satellite, for example.)

The Space Force did not release the value of the contracts.

The new contracts follow a successful June 2021 demonstration mission under the military's Tactically Responsive Space program, which aims to loft missions quickly to replace or augment satellites, especially in cases of crises or rapid deployments.

The Space Force is the first new U.S. military branch since the Air Force, which was created in 1947. (The Space Force is officially, however, part of the Air Force.) 

Its work is of crucial importance, the U.S. military has emphasized, due to emergent threats from Russia and China seeking to challenge the United States' longtime status as the world's greatest space power.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace