A Pegasus XL rocket rides beneath a modified L-1011 Stargazer jet.
A Pegasus XL rocket rides beneath a modified L-1011 Stargazer jet. A Pegasus launch is scheduled for 1:11 a.m. Sunday after the carrier plane lifts off from Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Contributed photo)

A Pegasus XL rocket launch is planned off the Central Coast this weekend for a mission originating from Vandenberg Space Force Base, and demonstrating the ability to quickly get a satellite into orbit. 

The air-launched rocket’s liftoff is planned for approximately 1:11 a.m. Sunday over the Pacific Ocean approximately 100 miles northwest of Vandenberg.

Unlike traditional rockets, Pegasus, built by Northrop Grumman, is carried aloft under the belly of a modified L-1011 aircraft, which flies over the ocean before releasing the rocket.

After a 5-second free fall, the rocket’s first stage will ignite to the send the booster on its way. 

Due to the launch location and time, Central Coast residents may not see or hear this rocket’s flight.

However, some may notice the L-1011 Stargazer departure since the large plane typically takes off from Vandenberg’s runway approximately one hour before the scheduled launch time. 

Dubbed the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 or TacRL-2, the mission also will deliver a small satellite aimed at demonstrating space domain awareness technology into low-Earth orbit. 

During the annual State of Vandenberg presentation in March, Col. Dave Rickards, director of staff, mentioned the Pegasus launch for the TacRL-2 mission among the approximately 13 planned from the base in 2021. 

“That’ll be a great test for our team to hone the skill required to launch on demand and with agility. Said more plainly, we’ll be given a short window of just three weeks to generate, to deploy, to execute a real world launch,” Rickards said. “We’ll be ready when that day comes.”

Mission objectives include launching a satellite on short notice, specifically achieving launch readiness within four months of awarding a contract, a U.S. Space Force spokesman said. 

Typically, the time between awarding a contract and seeing a rocket blastoff takes months or even years. 

Defense officials procured the launch service for $28 million, according to U.S. Space Force.

Pegasus rockets have served as the workhorse for carrying the nation’s smallest satellites into space.

As an air-launched rocket, Pegasus has provided flexibility with missions also occurring from Cape Canaveral, Florida; Wallops Island, Virginia; Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean; and Canary Islands, Spain.

Since Pegasus debuted in 1990, 44 rocket launches have occurred, with 20 from Vandenberg. For most missions that launched from other sites, the pre-launch chores, such as affixing the rocket under the plane, took place at Vandenberg.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.