Space

September 21, 2012

Lockheed Martin marks defense meteorological satellite program 50th anniversary

Fifty years ago, a small weather satellite was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

It was the first in a series that would later become known as the U.S. Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, spanning 41 successful launches over a half-century, with two satellites still remaining to be sent into space. All were launched from VAFB into near-polar orbits allowing them to image the entire Earth, one slice at a time, as it rotated below.

 

“We congratulate the U.S. Air Force on this historic anniversary of a remarkable program that year after year has provided critical environmental data that enhanced our national security both strategically and tactically,” said Mark Valerio, vice president and general manager of Military Space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. “As we reflect on Lockheed Martin’s 100 year anniversary, we are enormously proud of our 50-year partnership with the U.S. Air Force in advancing our nation’s defense weather mission. Since the very beginning of the program in 1962, Lockheed Martin has built every DMSP spacecraft, and this has been, and remains, a true source of pride for us.”

Initially, the DMSP program was highly classified and run by the National Reconnaissance Program, in support of the CORONA program, and its first reconnaissance satellites. The CORONA satellites took pictures on 70 mm film, and while each satellite carried up to 32,000 feet of film, it eventually would run out and the mission would end when the last film-return capsule re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific. Thus, it was essential to the success of the CORONA mission that timely and accurate DMSP forecasts be made over areas of interest so that cloud-free photography would be possible, taking maximum advantage of film limitations.

At 50 years, DMSP is the longest running production satellite program ever. During that time, DMSP satellites have saved many billions of dollars and countless human lives as a result of timely weather forecasts. While the NOAA TIROS program launched the first weather satellite in 1960, over the years the TIROS program became a recipient of DMSP technology in excess of $1 billion.

DMSP is still providing strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the U.S. military in planning operations at sea, on land and in the air. Equipped with a sophisticated sensor suite that can image visible and infrared cloud cover and measure precipitation, surface temperature, and soil moisture, the satellites collect specialized global meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-geophysical information in all weather conditions. The DMSP constellation comprises two spacecraft in near-polar orbits, C3 (command, control and communications), user terminals and weather centers. The latest launch occurred Oct. 18, 2009, when DMSP F-18 roared into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

The current Block 5D-3 series accommodates larger sensor payloads than earlier generations. They also feature a larger capability power subsystem; a more powerful on-board computer with increased memory – allowing greater spacecraft autonomy – and increased battery capacity that extends the mean mission duration. Starting with F-17, the attitude control subsystem has also been enhanced with the integration of a second inertial measurement unit using ring laser, versus mechanical, gyros to provide greater precision pointing flexibility.

Two satellites remain to be launched, as needed, and are maintained at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facility in Sunnyvale, Calif., for storage, functional testing, and upgrading. The spacecraft are shipped to Vandenberg for launch when requested by the Air Force. The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. manages the DMSP program.

 




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