A Texas-based company’s young rocket successfully launched Thursday night from Vandenberg Space Force Base for a mission to determine how quickly it and its team could place a payload in orbit with short notice.
Firefly Aerospace and U.S. Space Force confirmed the Alpha rocket program’s third launch occurred at 7:28 p.m. from Space Launch Complex-2 for the Victus Nox mission. Officials had remained mum about Thursday’s launch plans.
While the marine layer hid the view for many on the Central Coast, the liftoff near sunset attracted attention from as far away as Arizona with spectators putting pictures on social media.
But pretty pictures don’t determine a launch’s success for missions where the goal is to deliver the military or commercial customers’ payloads to space.
For this mission, Firefly and Space Force also aimed to demonstrate Tactically Responsive Space capabilities, or the ability to quickly prep for and launch a payload.
To prep for launch, the team successfully encapsulated a Millennium Space Systems-built space vehicle, mated it to Firefly’s Alpha rocket, and completed all final launch preparations in 24 hours.
For some missions, those tasks can take weeks or even months.
Liftoff occurred 27 hours after receipt of a launch order, setting a new record for responsive space launch, according to Space Systems Command.
“The success of Victus 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,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of Space Systems Command.
“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.”
Bill Weber, chief executive officer of Firefly Aerospace, said Thursday’s launch meant success for the Space Force, the Firefly team and “and our nation after nailing this complex responsive space mission.
“Our combined commercial and government team executed the mission with record speed, agility, and flexibility, adding a critical capability to address national security needs,” Weber added.
Firefly’s rocket progressed seamlessly through each stage of flight, before deploying the satellite at the planned place in low-Earth orbit.
Firefly also successfully tested an Alpha stage two relight and targeted re-entry officials said.
“As our third flight, this mission further validates Firefly’s technology rigor, passion, and dedication that’s required to prevail as the leading responsive launch provider for both government and commercial customers,” said Adam Oakes, vice president of launch vehicles at Firefly Aerospace.
A successful mission sets the stage for Firefly to ramp up Alpha production and testing for multiple upcoming launches for a variety of government and other customers seeking to place small payload in orbit.
For instance, Firefly recently entered into a contract with L3Harris Technologies for three dedicated launches on Firefly’s Alpha vehicle in 2026. All three missions will occur from Vandenberg, according to the Sept. 5 announcement.
Firefly’s inaugural launch ended in a fireball after lifting off from Vandenberg in September 2021, but the firm labeled the second mission in September 2022 a success.