Farewell to Mycroft Spacecraft

  • Published
  • By U.S. Space Force Capt. John Newell
  • 3rd Test and Evaluation Squadron

Members of the 3rd Test and Evaluation Squadron, the 7th Space Operations Squadron and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate bid farewell to Mycroft, a research and development space vehicle, during final operations at Schriever Space Force Base, March 2022.

The Mycroft flight experiment pushed the boundaries of in space object characterization and navigation technologies which increased safety of flight while maneuvering in a congested and dynamic environment.

 Launched on Air Force Space Command 11 on April 14, 2018, Mycroft accomplished over 15 AFRL/RV experiments as well as 12 unplanned experiments vital to the National Space Defense Center. These adhoc experiments were essential in providing real-world training and data to space operators.

AFRL transitioned satellite control authority to 3rd TES on Sept 16, 2020. 

“Our mission here at 3 TES is to build test capabilities and execute integrated tests and experimentation,” said U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Anna Gunn-Golkin, 3rd TES commander. “Mycroft transferred to us while we were still the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron. As we transitioned to a test organization in August 2021, Mycroft taught us how to move from experimentation on the vehicle, to experimentation with the vehicle, to using a robust, proven spacecraft to execute tests and deliver tactical capabilities with strategic implications.”

Under the command of 3rd TES, Mycroft flew four AFSPC and U.S. Space Force tests and, for the first time on-orbit, demonstrated orbital warfare tactics. 

The 3rd TES provided live flight data to 12 mission partners spanning all three USSF field commands, paving the way for future Space Operations Command and Space Training and Readiness Command orbital warfare testing, training and operations. 

During the final satellite contact, USSF Capt. John Newell, Test Pilot School and Space Test Course student, USAF Reserve Capt. Bryan Wynkoop, 6th SOPS flight commander and Department of the Air Force civilian Dr. Richard “Father Mycroft” Zappulla, AFRL/RV Mycroft principle investigator and lead guidance, navigation and control engineer passivated Mycroft.

The passivation of a spacecraft is the removal of any internal energy contained in the vehicle at the end of its mission or useful life.

During the final contact, the crew confirmed the vehicle was properly passivated by being in the safest, lowest energy state possible. This included venting any residual propellant and disconnecting and draining the batteries to ensure the spacecraft can not cause any inadvertent radio frequency interference with other spacecraft. 

Before Aug. 27, 2021, the 3rd TES was known as the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron and was a component of the Space Training and Readiness Delta (Provisional).

All 3rd SES commanders who contributed to Mycroft’s success, were present for the final command sequence: USSF Col. Kevin Amsden, National Space Defense Center deputy director, USSF Lt. Col. William Burich, Joint Task Force-Space Defense Current Operations division chief, USAF Lt. Col. retired Zack Owen, National Space Defense Center contractor and USSF Lt. Col. Anna Gunn-Golkin, 3rd TES commander.

“It was really neat to have four commanders present for Mycroft’s end of life,” said Dr. Zappulla. “Seeing all four commanders there, you really sense the passion our team has, and you come to understand and appreciate the impact Mycroft had in bettering our nation, and the lives of everyone who worked on her. We had the right people at the right time. This program has significantly pushed the bar forward in terms of science and technology, and is the highlight of my career.” 

The unfailing partnership between AFRL/RV, 7th SOPS, 3rd TES and the USSF at-large enabled Mycroft to outlive its’ 1-year design life by almost three years, contributing to the development of future orbital warfare and space domain awareness test, training and tactics development.

The government and industry will be applying lessons from the Mycroft flight experiment to future missions and architectures, becoming the technical baseline for future generations of tactical spacecraft and operations.