The U.S. Space Force successfully quickly sent a new satellite into space Thursday night, proving its ability to rapidly adapt in the case of an emergency. It also left many people throughout Southern California wondering just what was happening in the sky.
As the rocket took off from Santa Barbara County, people along the coast in Los Angeles and San Diego reported seeing a “strange light” as the spacecraft burst through the atmosphere, a large smoke cloud billowing after it. The rocket’s trail was visible throughout much of Southern California, with some Marines spotting it from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton near San Diego, more than 200 miles away from the launch site.
But no, it was not aliens in an unidentified flying object. It was just Space Force.
Space Force sent the rocket into space as part of its Victus Nox mission. The mission was a test of its “Tactically Responsive Space” or TacRS capabilities, essentially to see just how quickly the service can send a satellite into orbit should the need arise. This mission was not only a success but the launch set a new record: the rocket took off just 27 hours after receiving the order.
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“The success of VICTU[S] 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,” Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command, said in a statement. “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.”
The mission used an Alpha rocket from Firefly Aerospace, carrying a satellite made by Millennium Space Systems. The rocket took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base. The Victus Nox mission, like other earlier tests to see how quickly rockets could be launched, was overseen by Space Force’s Space Systems Command.
In August, Firefly Aerospace and Millennium Space Systems were put on “hot standby,” being told to be ready to move all required pieces to Vandenberg to be ready for a launch. Parameters said that they would have 60 hours to do so once the alert was given; the rocket was made launch-ready in 58 hours.
Earlier this year in April, SpaceX rockets carried several Space Force satellites into orbit, part of the service’s attempts to build out a network of communications and tracking satellites in space.