Podcast

The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security

Episode 6: Victus Nox Illustrates the Rise of Tactically Responsive Space

The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security

Episode 6: Victus Nox Illustrates the Rise of Tactically Responsive Space

Host: Scott King

Subject Matter Expert: Elara Nova Senior Partner Col (Ret.) Rob Biongiovi

00:02 – 01:32

Space-based capabilities are essential to Department of Defense operations. But modern threats, both kinetic and non-kinetic, are emerging to disable or destroy space-based assets, potentially leaving forces across the DOD exposed and vulnerable. Now, the DOD and the Space Force are seeking to establish what’s called the “Tactically Responsive Space” capability – or TacRS – by 2026, with the objective of re-establishing compromised space-based capabilities in an operationally relevant timeline.

The Victus Nox demonstration, completed in September of 2023 – was a major step in this direction – as the Space Force and its industry partners successfully fielded, launched, and initiated satellite operations in a timeline previously thought to be untenable – accomplishing in hours and days, what traditionally takes months to years.

Welcome to The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security. I’m your host Scott King. And here to talk about the Tactically Responsive Space mission – and the role of launch in facilitating TacRS capability – is Retired Colonel Rob Bongiovi, senior partner at Elara Nova. Colonel Bongiovi previously served as the Director of Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate with the United States Air Force, before retiring in 2022.

Sir, thank you for joining me at the Elara Edge today. As we get started, can you share your perspective on the Tactically Responsive Space mission, and the role of launch in the TacRS process?

01:33 – 02:29

Sure. Tactically Responsive Space is a concept that explores the use of end-to-end space operations in a more responsive manner than we did in the past, say, in our Cold War or post-9/11 days.

It means the ability to get from where we need to launch something, to launching that thing, with an affordable amount of prep work, with real meaningful capability at the end. Tactically Responsive Space grew out of the old Tactically Responsive Launch. But it’s really not about launch – launch isn’t the problem that’s hard to solve.

It’s really about the end-to-end solution. It’s about deciding what to launch and where and why. The technical process of not just having the launch vehicles ready, but satellites ready and the payloads ready to go, and then having them integrated into the CONOPS, so that they’re ready to be used. These are not going to be things that you can just launch and operate if you haven’t practiced or exercised them or used them in wargaming, so there’s a lot of work to do there.

02:29 – 02:44 

So Tactically Responsive Space was born out of the Tactically Responsive Launch concept. How does this change reflect how the role of launch is changing – from how it’s been done historically – to where it needs to be to meet the modern and future threat environment?

02:45 – 03:28

So launch is always hard. I mean, putting anything in orbit, no matter how small, is going to require a lot of work from a physics perspective. But historically, we’ve really been launching expensive missions that we couldn’t afford not to get to orbit. Launch is definitely the riskiest part in a satellite’s life and we put a whole bunch of processes in place to buy-down that risk.

But what’s being introduced here is some urgency. And that urgency is really going to force people to roll up your sleeves, get the work done, and figure out how we get through that process very fast in a way that we can tolerate the risk in order to get capability on-orbit when and where we need it in response to, you know, real-time threats. 

03:29 – 04:21

The urgency you mentioned is a core tenet to the TacRS construct – which emphasizes re-establishing a compromised space-based capability in a timely manner. 

In many ways, the Victus Nox demonstration accelerated these operational timelines. Mission goals included: 

  • Having a payload transported to a launchpad, and mated to a rocket within 60 hours. Victus Nox did this in 57
  • The payload and its rocket were required to be launched within 24 hours of its notice to launch. Victus Nox did this in 27, despite a three-hour weather delay
  • Then the space domain awareness payload was required to become operational within 48 hours of reaching orbit. Victus Nox did this in 37.

Considering these accomplishments – what makes the Victus Nox demonstration an appropriate representation of leveraging commercial capability for the launch and TacRS mission?

04:22 – 05:18

Yeah, this is a great example of a good partnership between the commercial industry and the Department of Defense. The ability to do these kinds of timelines was largely driven by the fact that the commercial industry is developing systems and people were investing in systems that were going faster because the commercial industry needed them.

And there’s also a reasonably strong market for these kinds of launches. And so, the government really implemented a strategy of, ‘We don’t need to pick a winner here. We need to let this mature.’ So we’ve been saying to industry is – you guys are building launch vehicles that are going after a certain market space, and our market space is a little different, but not that different. 

So what do we have to do to expand the market space so that, you know, we meet both needs? Victus Nox really shows how far we’ve come. The government has worked with industry and really taken advantage of the commercial developments to achieve on-orbit capability very quickly at the speed of need.

05:19 – 05:37

Ahead of the Victus Nox demonstration – the Space Force provided a “menu” of potential mission scenarios to their space industry partners, so that they could plan accordingly.

Why are these “menus,” so to speak, important for ensuring industry partners are informed and prepared for potential mission requirements? 

05:38 – 06:45

You know, I think these menus were really smart. In order to plan out a launch – there is a lot of analysis that needs to be done. There’s a huge process to make sure that we can launch a satellite without breaking it. 

It’s a bunch of loads, a bunch of trajectory analysis that really is how do you get to that final orbit?

And then, you know, you really need to also know what’s out there and make sure that you launch in a way that misses everything else that’s out there, so you don’t cause any debris or anything like that. And, historically, a 30-day timeline was incredibly hard to do that. And most of that’s really about how much processing and capability do you have?

So these menus really allow the presentation of a capability to the operators that gives them what they need, but also allows the technical side and the real, you know, the real hard work that’s going to have to be done launch-by-launch to be in place and just be tailored for the particular mission at-hand.

So I think it was really smart that they implemented this menu concept. And I think as they refine it – it’ll become apparent that that is sufficient to get what we need for on-orbit capability.

06:45 – 6:57

Commercial space – and commercial launch – are budding industries. What are some other important considerations for the Space Force and the DOD to account for, as they seek to grow its relationship with industry partners in these fields?

06:58 – 08:17

This scenario is really well-suited for leveraging commercial capability. First, the kinds of systems that industry is developing are reasonably close to what we need for the military. And second, when you use commercial items and modify them, you can usually do this much faster than a regular development. And you can buy them in a way that avoids a whole bunch of bureaucratic inertia and so by combining those, I think it’s a good match.

I don’t think it’s perfect. We have to become more accepting of each other’s ways of buying down the risk of launch. The government may walk in with a set of tools and processes that they think is the only way to do it. And industry may have a different way, but we’re starting to prove to each other that we can convince each other, you know, ‘How do you use each other’s tools in a way to get the risk to where we need it to be?’

It’s the urgency that’s changed. There wasn’t there wasn’t a universal acceptance of urgency five years ago. There certainly wasn’t ten or 15 years ago. And the urgency is really driving big changes across the board in CONOPS, in mission assurance, in contracting and system design. And we should be asking ourselves, ‘How do we take these tools we have and use them to go faster?’

Speed reduces costs. I mean, there’s probably a point where you’re going so fast, it’s going to cost more. But generally, as we go faster, it’s going to actually help costs across the board come down.

08:18 – 08:22

And sir, where does the Space Force go from here? What happens next?

08:23 – 09:47

As we previously discussed, you know, launch is just one step in the delivery of the capability to orbit and giving it to the warfighters.

So, putting launch between you and capability in-orbit is not always the best strategy and figuring out how to minimize the risk is probably good. I think that achieving these timelines show it can be done. When somebody shows it can be done, all of a sudden other people are doing it.

So, I think as the Space Force goes forward, they are going to continue to advertise that they’re doing it at this speed and that, you know, industry is going to start more generically, that’s going to be a capability that industry can provide – the speeds that we’re talking about: days instead of weeks and weeks instead of months, kind of thing.

So I think that’s a huge deal. And I think that’s going to really allow the warfighters and the operational planners to open up their trade space and really give them better solutions in the interest of national security. 

You know, we’re in a world where launching certainly a small satellite in a day or days or a week – that’s not out of the realm of possibility. It’s going to get pretty routine. So, this is really relevant in how we get there. 

So, my parting thought, though, is that we can’t forget that this isn’t about this launch vehicle. This isn’t about the satellite. This is a capability. And to get the capability on-orbit and employed in a fight – we have to think through the entire process from the call-up, through the launch, and satellite activation and mission execution and all that has to move very urgently at the speed of need of the warfighter. So, you know, the Space Force really needs to keep working on this. 

09:47 – 09:56

Thank you, sir. And so how can Elara Nova – with its team of military and space industry experts – contribute to the adoption of TacRS capability?

09:57 – 10:26

The Elara Nova team has expertise across the spectrum on this kind of problem. They’ve had people that served decades in the military, they’ve served in the Pentagon, they’ve served in the White House, they served in the Hill, they’ve served in industry, and they really understand the nature of the threat and the speed at which we need to operate.

And they can help with that understanding. We can help industry come up with the plans and government come up with strategies to put something executable in place that results in a real capability, a capability that the nation can afford that imposes costs on the enemy or defeats the threat.

10:27 – 11:16

If you’re interested in learning more about the role of launch in the Tactically Responsive Space mission – visit our Insights page at www.elaranova.com.  

This has been an episode of The Elara Edge: Expert Insights on Space Security. As a global consultancy and professional services firm focused on helping businesses and government agencies maximize the strategic advantages of the space domain, Elara Nova is your source for expertise and guidance in space security.

If you liked what you heard today, please subscribe to our channel and leave us a rating. Music for this podcast was created by Patrick Watkins of PW Audio. This episode was edited and produced by Regia Multimedia Services. I’m your host, Scott King, and join us next time at the Elara Edge.