A New Space Force Satellite Just Took Off for Space—From a Plane

That’s one way to get around the need for launch pads.

On June 13, the U.S. Space Force launched a new intelligence-gathering satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, located along the coast of southern California. But the secretive satellite, itself, is just one small piece of the story.

This mission, designated the “Tactically Responsive Launch 2,” or TacRL-2, relied on Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL—a winged rocket that is carried aloft by an airliner—to launch the satellite into space. In this case, a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar commercial airliner, dubbed “Stargazer,” did the carrying.

It’s all a part of the Space Force’s efforts to decentralize space launches, generating missions on shorter notice, all without the need for a traditional launch pad.

The U.S. has only a handful of dedicated space launch facilities, located in California and Florida. Those facilities would be high-priority targets in a major war, open to sabotage or missile attack. So, a series of successful attacks could delay U.S. space launches for weeks or even months, hindering the deployment of new military satellites. TacRL-2 aims to reduce the Space Force’s reliance on such large, vulnerable bases.

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