Firefly and Millennium enter ‘hot standby phase’ for high-stakes Space Force mission

The clock is ticking for Firefly Aerospace and Millennium Space Systems, with the two companies announcing today that they have entered the “hot standby phase” for an orbital mission for the U.S. Space Force.

The exact launch date of the Victus Nox mission, Firefly’s third mission using the Alpha rocket, is unknown. This is by design: The mission is part of the U.S. Space Force’s initiative to solicit rapid launch capabilities from commercial industry. The two companies will have virtually no notice and very short windows to get a satellite to the launch site and into space.

The mission, translated from the Latin for “conquer the night,” is aptly named. At some intentionally unknown time in the next six months, Space Force officials will issue an alert notification to the two teams. From there, Boeing subsidiary Millennium, which built the satellite for the mission, will have 60 hours to transport the spacecraft from Los Angeles to Vandenberg Space Force Base and integrate it with Alpha’s payload adaptor.

Once that work is complete, the Space Force will provide Firefly with a launch notice, starting a 24-hour clock. In that period, Firefly must update its trajectory and guidance software with the final orbital requirements, encapsulate the payload, transport it to the pad, attach it to the 95-foot-tall rocket and launch at the first available window.

Rapid launch is a capability that is “critical to our national defense,” Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, Materiel Leader for the Space Force’s Space Safari office, said in a statement.

“The accelerated build time the team demonstrated for VICTUS NOX, combined with the demanding launch and on-orbit goals, exemplifies our strong commitment to preserving our nation’s dominance and ability to freely operate in the space domain,” he said.

Firefly and Millennium won the contract for the Victus Nox mission in October, with Firefly’s award topping out at $17.6 million. The value of Millennium’s contract was not disclosed.