WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force launched a new experimental satellite July 29 that will test the possibility of installing large, deployable weather sensors on small satellites.

Named Monolith, the satellite is an Air Force Research Laboratory program exploring the possibility of using small satellites for Department of Defense missions. The mission for this latest launch will demonstrate whether large, deployable sensors can be effectively used with 6U- or 12U-sized satellite buses. A 6U satellite is 10-by-20-by-30 centimeters, while the 12U is larger at 20-by-20-by-30 centimeters.

The disposable sensors being used represent a significant amount of the small satellite’s mass, and this demonstration will help the Space Force understand how that affects the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and its ability to maintain attitude control. If successful, the mission could enable the service to use smaller satellites to field weather sensors.

A Space Force release noted that “the satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities.”

The satellite was built by the nonprofit Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University. It was launched on a Rocket Lab-built Electron rocket, which took off from the company’s New Zealand facility carrying the payload into low Earth orbit. It was the second-ever DoD mission from that launch pad, with the first taking place in 2019.

“Our continuing partnership with Rocket Lab USA demonstrates SMC’s [Space and Missile Systems Center’s] dedication to grow our Nation’s space capabilities both in Government, and the private sector,” said Col. Timothy Sejba, SMC’s program executive officer for space development. “This mission proves the functionality of innovative space launch for the Government by working with an agile company that is working diligently to meet the needs of the DoD.”

The launch was secured in partnership with the Defense Innovation Unit under the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, which looks to leverage the growing commercial small launch market to put experimental DoD satellites on orbit within 18 months of an award.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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