Satnews Daily
December 18th, 2017

Air Force Secretary Takes Off the Wraps and Unveils Final DMSP-20 Satellite

An unveiling took place by the Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson at the Space and Missile Systems Center revealing the final Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, DMSP-20, for display at the Schriever Space Complex, during her visit to Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. 

The secretary, a former university president and member of Congress representing New Mexico’s 1st District, addressed and took questions from a standing room only audience within the Gordon Conference Center as part of SMC’s continuing lecture series, "Airmen Everywhere,” prior to unveiling the 1990’s era satellite.

Wilson said that this display represents a nearly 60-year history of environmental monitoring success by a satellite constellation that continues to provide crucial weather information to our nation’s leaders, civil users, and warfighters.

Weighing 2,552 pounds and measuring 25 feet in length, DMSP-20 represents the last of the eleventh and most recent version of the Block 5D-3 series built by Lockheed Martin to provide global coverage twice a day for the Department of Defense and civilian meteorologists. 

Powered by a single, articulated 10-segmented solar array, the 3-axis stabilized bus with integrated propulsion system can draw its historical lineage back to the early days of the Cold War and Space Age. 

DMSP got its start in 1961, when the National Reconnaissance Office established a meteorological satellite program to provide information on cloud cover over the Soviet Union for the once highly-classified Corona photographic reconnaissance satellites. Retired Air Force Col. Thomas Haig, recently presented with a piece of the DMSP-20 satellite on August 9 in Wisconsin, was selected to create and manage DMSP. 

Although intended as an interim program, the highly successful DMSP was transferred to the Space Systems Division the forerunner of today’s SMC, and launched its first satellite into low Earth orbit on August 23, 1962

In the intervening six decades, DMSP has had a line of successes.  It provided the earliest tactical uses of space-based weather information and the world’s first use of satellite imagery to support tactical military operations during the Vietnam conflict. The information DMSP provides has been crucial to the support of military operations ever since, from first Gulf War to real-time situational awareness for current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Lt. Gen. John Thompson, SMC commander and Air Force program executive officer for space said but DMSP supports more than just military operations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and various other civil and humanitarian organizations use DMSP imagery and data for weather forecasting. This includes numerous missions that rely on data from snow cover and tropical cyclone intensity to cloud temperatures and magnetic fields in space Even NASA uses DMSP weather information to help plan future launches, as they did with launches stretching back to the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.

Although the final DMSP satellite launched in 2014, the current five-satellite constellation as a whole will continue to provide data used to create weather forecast models and provide crucial weather information for the foreseeable future. 

This includes DMSP-14, which was launched in 1997 and completed its historic 100,000th orbit around the Earth last summer. 

Dr. Stephen Pluntze, deputy director of SMC’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate and former director of the Defense Weather Systems Directorate said that the fact that DMSP-14 is providing weather data 17 years past its designed mission life of three years is a testament to the craftsmanship of the satellite and the hard work of the government and contractor teams who continue to make the DMSP program a resounding success.

The Space and Missile Systems Center was responsible for procuring DMSP satellites. The DMSP constellation is operated by a coalition of mission partners including NOAA’s Office of Satellite and Product Operations and the 50th Operations Group Detachment 1, both located in Suitland, Maryland.  

Backup command and control operations are conducted by the 6th Space Operations Squadron located at Schriever AFB, Colorado. Lockheed Martin Space Systems designed the spacecraft, and Northrop Grumman worked with the Air Force Research Laboratory to provide the sensors integrated onto the spacecraft.

SMC, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is the U.S. Air Force Space Command's center of excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. SMC’s portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch enterprise, satellite control networks, remote sensing systems, and space situational awareness capabilities.