The U.S. Launched Tiny Satellite In 2020; the Space Force slowed down dramatically due to the pandemic and technological setbacks. Tiny rocket missions included launches by Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and Space Vector that fell to 2021. “During the production of their programs, a few of the small launch providers encountered technical challenges, and it has delayed missions into the year 2021,” stated Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, leader of the small launch and objectives division of the launch company of Space and Missile Systems Center. Rose informed SpaceNews in a conversation from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, “COVID-19 affected the outcome of these missions.”

Rose operates the Space Force office that supplies military and civilian government departments with small-satellite launch facilities. The small launch projects of both the Space Force and NASA will carry on significant positions in a fragmented market where thousands of firms are designing small launch vehicles and requiring winning government contracts to remain competitive. Rose stated the Space Force is planning to analyze as many emerging vendors as possible to work out how to contract to satisfy a still unknown potential need for their services.

When just one mission launched, a Northrop Grumman Minotaur 4 confidential launch for National Reconnaissance Office took off from Wallops Flight Facility of NASA Agency in Virginia in the month of July, small-satellite national security deployments were complicated in 2020. The solid-propellant 4-stage Minotaur is manufactured from the decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles using 3-government-furnished solid-rocket engines. The Space Test Program STP-27RM project planned to fly on Electron rocket of Rocket Lab is one Space Force flight set for 2020 but not completed.

The Monolith project attempts the Air Force Research Laboratory to assess small satellites’ potential to accommodate vast aperture payloads for space weather monitoring. The flight was postponed by the certification which took a bit longer than expected of the new Rocket Lab launch pad at the Wallops, Virginia, not by vehicle problems. NASA is yet to sign off on the automated flight abort system for the vehicle. Rose stated a spring or even summer launch is being planned by the Space Force. “We have been focusing on a deployment plan with NASA agency,” she said.

The other Air Force Research Experimental study expected for 2020 is a sounding rocket mission on the new spacecraft designed by Space Vector as well as Kratos, which both from Wallops. This is an AFRL test to gather data mostly during a suborbital flight of the vehicle. It is now expected that the sounding rocket flight will launch in the spring, Rose added.