U.S military personnel may be largely restricted to their local areas for the next two months, but the new Space Force will continue to perform mission-critical activities such as launches, according to the service.
“The DoD’s priorities are the protection of service members, their families, and the department’s civilian work force; safeguarding and maintaining our ability to defend the nation and its interests; and supporting our U.S. Government partners in this fight. At this time, there are no impacts to U.S. Space Force mission-essential activities due to COVID-19 concerns,” a service spokesman said in a March 16 email to Defense Daily.
Forthcoming launches are not expected to be affected by current Defense Department travel restrictions related to the novel COVID-19 coronavirus, the spokesman said. On March 13, Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued new guidance directing U.S. military personnel not to travel outside of their local areas until May 11, outside of mission-critical activities.
The Space and Missile Systems Center has said the nascent Space Force could perform about 20 launches in 2020 – about eight to 10 National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions and nine small satellite missions.
Among those scheduled launches that fall within the current travel restriction timeframe are the sixth and final Advanced EHF satellite launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket, currently scheduled for March 26 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Lockheed Martin [LMT] develops the AEHF systems. ULA is a joint launch venture between Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin.
Also currently scheduled for March is a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) mission dubbed NROL-129, scheduled to launch from Wallops Island, Virginia aboard a Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems [NOC] Minotaur 4 launch vehicle. In April, the Space Force is currently scheduled to launch the third GPS III space vehicle, built by Lockheed Martin, aboard a Space X Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral.
In May, the Space Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle built by Boeing is scheduled to launch as part of the AFSPC-7 mission aboard a ULA Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral for the space plane’s sixth mission.