US Space Force says it needs more practice at responding to orbital emergencies

But still just once a year because this stuff is expensive. Hopefully that's enough

In the military world, preparation is everything. That's why the US Space Force is planning to up its tactical response launch practice cadence … to once a year.

Speaking at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies this week, USSF Space Systems Commander Lieutenant General Philip Garrant said annual tactical response missions were about showing that the Space Force has "a culture of going fast." More rapid response missions, Garrant said, mean more USSF agility and speed.

Tactical response missions are just what they sound like, and they're the same across the military. Space Force personnel will be aware of specific mission plans - much like how in a wartime situation you'd be on alert for an attack - but you won't know when those missions will start. Leadership will announce that it's go time - often in the middle of the night - and the goal is to accomplish that particular mission as fast as possible.

Those missions being things like rapid launches of vital equipment, or dealing with emergencies or dangers in orbit.

In the Space Force's case its most recent tactical response mission was Victus Nox, which saw the branch go from having a civilian space industry partner on hot standby to launching a satellite within a week. 

Victus Nox was only the second USSF tactical response mission in the branch's brief history, with the first happening in 2021. That earlier exercise, dubbed Launch-2, saw the Space Force and partners at Northrop Grumman scramble to launch a small domain awareness satellite from a rocket carried by a jet instead of being launched from the ground.

That's two tactical missions since 2021, and another planned for next year with none on the schedule for 2024. It's not clear what it'll take to increase the tactical response cadence from once-every-so-often to annually, or if this is delaying the Space Force's overall mission readiness in case it actually has to respond to an orbital incident. 

Obviously, scrambling private industry and launching a rocket takes a lot more coordination and costs a lot more money than shouting a bunch of privates out of bed, so fewer real-world exercises are to be expected. It's also not clear, however, whether USSF guardians practice their tactical responses outside of actual launches. We've reached out to the Space Force, but haven't heard back. 

"You'll see a Victus mission every year and it'll have a different name," Garrant said at the Mitchell Institute. Whether that will start with next year's Victus Haze is unknown. 

Speaking of Victus Haze, that mission will see the Space Force demonstrate its "ability to respond to irresponsible behavior on orbit," Space Systems Command said in an April announcement [PDF] that it had awarded contracts for the mission. 

Garrant said that Haze would involve multiple space vehicles, launches and payload providers, all of which will be tested on their ability to coordinate with USSF to get their systems into orbit and ready to mitigate an orbital threat as soon as they can. 

Orbital threats aren't out of the question at this point, either, and the Space Force has previously been shown to be unprepared to counter them. Both Russia and China have blown up orbiting satellites, in the former case forcing ISS astronauts to seek cover to avoid high-speed debris.

That, and there have been rumors recently that Russia might be considering putting nuclear anti-satellite weapons into orbit. In other words, the US has plenty of reasons to want a Space Force that's ready and able. 

"Adversaries are continuing to exhibit poor behavior," Garrant said. "Victus gives us an opportunity to have a rapid response and to show resolve and the commitment to the world that we can address those types of threats." ®

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