Northrop Grumman confirms successful payload launch for the USSF

Northrop Grumman has confirmed a successful launch on June 13, 2021, placing the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) payload into orbit for the USSF (United States Space Force). The payload launched using the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vanderburgh Space Force Base. The space force's tactically responsive launch concept aims to introduce speed, agility, and flexibility into the Lodge enterprise to respond to dynamic changes in the space domain or an operational theater.

The goal is to be able to insert and replace assets on orbit much faster than standard timelines to meet combatant command requirements. Pegasus is the first privately developed commercial space launch vehicle in the world and utilizes a modified "Stargazer" L-1011 aircraft. The aircraft flies to an altitude of about 40,000 feet, where the Pegasus rocket's first stage was ignited to push the TacRL-2 into its intended orbit.

Northrop Grumman says the Pegasus launch is a "clear demonstration of our team's ability to provide rapid and responsive operational needs." Northrop says its team could execute the design, integration, and testing of the TacRL-2 launch vehicle in less than four months from being awarded the contract. The launch also marks the 45th launch of a Pegasus rocket, which uses solid propulsion for maximum responsiveness.

Northrop says the capability provides customers with the flexibility to operate from almost anywhere on earth with minimal ground support requirements. So far, Pegasus has launched more than 90 satellites into low Earth orbit from a handful of launch sites around the US, Europe, and the Marshall Islands.

Rather than needing a customized and dedicated rocket launch facility such as those typically used at the Kennedy Space Center, the Northrop system launches from a runway capable of handling a large commercial airliner.

Update: Northrop Grumman has corrected its announcement, pointing out that this is the 45th launch of a Pegasus rocket, rather than the 45th successful launch of the rocket. We've corrected our article accordingly.