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Neutron Rocket Development: 2024 Updates

Space Force Selects Rocket Lab And True Anomaly For Tactically Responsive Mission

Rocket Lab and True Anomaly were just selected for an extremely cool tactically responsive mission by Space Systems Command. Per Rocket Lab’s press release the two teams will demonstrate the capability to develop space vehicles with rendezvous and proximity operation (RPO) functionality, as well as establish corresponding command and control centers for their operation in a mission called VICTUS HAZE:

Once the spacecraft build is complete, Rocket Lab will be entered into a Hot Standby Phase awaiting further direction. Once the exercise begins, Rocket Lab will be given notice to launch the spacecraft into a target orbit. After reaching orbit, the spacecraft will be rapidly commissioned and readied for operations. Rocket Lab will configure a Pioneer class spacecraft bus to meet the unique requirements of the VICTUS HAZE mission and launch the spacecraft on Electron from either Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, NZ or Launch Complex 2 in Wallops, VA. Once on orbit, the spacecraft will conduct a variety of dynamic space operations to demonstrate SDA characterization capabilities with True Anomaly’s spacecraft, the Jackal autonomous orbital vehicle.

Rocket Lab’s Pioneer spacecraft was previously used to support the Varda mission.

Photo of a Rocket Lab Pioneer Spacecraft

True Anomaly’s AI-enabled Jackal spacecraft is really interesting as well:

Screenshot of Jackal autonomous orbital vehicle (AOV)

Ars Technica has a comprehensive piece up with a more detailed profile of the exercise:

“When another nation puts an asset up into space and we don’t quite know what that asset is, we don’t know what its intent is, we don’t know what its capabilities are, we need the ability to go up there and figure out what this thing is,” said Gen. Michael Guetlein, the Space Force’s vice chief of space operations.

This is what the Space Force wants to demonstrate with Victus Haze. For this mission, True Anomaly’s spacecraft will launch first, posing as a satellite from a potential adversary, like China or Russia. Rocket Lab will have a satellite on standby to go up and inspect True Anomaly’s spacecraft and will launch it when the Space Force gives the launch order.

“Pretty sporty,” said Even Rogers, co-founder and CEO of True Anomaly.

Then, if all goes according to plan, the two spacecraft will switch roles, with True Anomaly’s Jackal satellite actively maneuvering around Rocket Lab’s satellite. According to the Space Force, True Anomaly and Rocket Lab will deliver their spacecraft no later than the fall of 2025.

There’s another interesting aspect to this mission mentioned in a Payload article:

Planners expect to increase complexity to the point where one vehicle will actively avoid being characterized. The goal isn’t just to demonstrate the technology, but also develop the tactics and procedures for these kinds of missions.

The demonstration is a collaboration between the Defense Innovation Unit, Space Safari acquisition program, and SpaceWERX.