MOJAVE AIR AND SPACE PORT, Calif. – A U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command team was out of this world as it watched its Lonestar satellite travel into space.
Lonestar, a technology demonstrator designed to provide space-based situational awareness directly into the hands of the tactical warfighter, lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port as a payload aboard Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne two-stage orbital air-launch vehicle, July 1. When in orbit, Lonestar’s purpose is to warn commanders about interference with Assured Position, Navigation, and Timing systems on the battlefield and to characterize the signals environment in a contested area so Army forces can continue to operate in a space-contested environment.
LauncherOne was attached to a pylon on the aircraft’s left wing before being launched over the Pacific Ocean from the Boeing 747-400 carrier aircraft, named “Cosmic Girl.” The launch of Lonestar on the Virgin Orbit National System’s LauncherOne rocket was made available by the Department of Defense Space Test Program.
“The Lonestar team at the SMDC Technical Center’s Space Directorate and Dynetics, the satellite developer, are very excited about the Lonestar launch since this is the final major gateway toward achieving demonstration of a new capability for the ground warfighters,” said Dr. Sierra Smith, SMDC Lonestar program manager. “The culmination of this effort comes after four years of hard work by the team in developing the Lonestar satellite. The Lonestar Science and Technology demonstrator (satellite) is fully capable and ready to fly, and this launch will finally allow us to validate the technology on-orbit.”
Smith said the team has worked diligently for the past couple years to verify the Lonestar satellite’s capability through hardware-in-the-loop laboratory testing to reduce technical risk, but there is no laboratory test or simulation that can replace on-orbit demonstration to mature the technology for transition to operations.
“When the Lonestar team makes first contact with the satellite from the ground station and sees all the efforts that led to the successful launch come together, that will be a huge accomplishment,” said Mike Graves, Dynetics Lonestar program manager. “The Lonestar team has the unique opportunity to work on a spaceflight program from the requirements phase through on-orbit operations. The experience gained will not only benefit the Lonestar mission, but also emerging needs for future tactical payloads.”
Smith added that the team’s mission is to develop and transition advanced tactical space support capabilities and concepts to the warfighter to address current and future capability gaps.
“We in SMDC Technical Center are excited to demonstrate this capability which, if developed into an operational capability would be a first to give this certain situational awareness information directly to the tactical warfighter on the ground from space,” Smith said. “Successful completion of the Lonestar initiative will advance the performance and availability of space support to the ground warfighter and validate a viable deployable solution to meet Department of Defense space support goals.”
Smith said it was a team effort between the Technical Center and Dynetics to develop the new Lonestar satellite and also to stand up the new ground system at the Payload Demonstration Laboratory to support multiple technology demonstration mission.
“This launch is a culmination of four years of dedicated work by the Lonestar team to enable this potential capability,” Smith said. “The team very much looks forward to seeing the on-orbit demonstration.”
Jeff Compton, Technical Center, said he volunteered to provide security detail for the Lonestar demonstrator in California and assist the team prior to the launch.
“I was happy to be able to help his team out. That’s one of SMDC’s biggest successes: teamwork and wanting to help each other,” Compton said. “I believe that was the vision for the Tech Center, each directorate can reach out to the other directorates for assistance when they need it. We don’t have to do everything on our own.
“This was different than the ballistic launches I’ve been on,” he added. “This platform comes off the aircraft and achieves orbital insertion, so it’s definitely different than all the ballistic launches. But it’s always exciting to see all the myriad systems come together and perform such a technical achievement.”
Compton said this is a very special team that works very well together and is welcoming and helpful.
“It’s always a thrill to be a part of such an enterprise. I’ve been on multiple missile launches, but this is only my second orbital launch, so it’s special to me,” Compton said. “Like I said, every time a rocket ignites, knowing that all those systems and components are working together, that’s just a very special feeling. I’d like to thank the Lonestar team for giving me the opportunity to participate.”
This was Dr. Matthew Hitt’s, SMDC Space Applications Division, second satellite project.
“Space capabilities are important to the Army so it is exciting to see additional experiments be tested,” Hitt said. “I ran some orbital simulations for what became Lonestar early in the program, so being able to see something that I supported several years ago finally make it to launch is pretty surreal. Also, the launch has provided an opportunity to see a new launch facility and learn more about this type of launch system.
“It’s a great team out here supporting the launch,” Hitt added. “People at SMDC support the mission and are willing to make sacrifices when needed to ensure the mission is accomplished. I can't think of a better team to support the launch for Lonestar.”