The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) has been collecting weather data for U.S. military operations for more than two decades. The men and women of the 6th Space Operations Squadron, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., under the 50th Space Wing at Falcon Air Force Base, Colorado, provide command and control support for all DMSP satellites.

At all times, two operational DMSP Block 5D-2 satellites are in polar orbits at about 450 nautical miles. The primary weather sensor on DMSP is the Operational Linescan System which provides continuous visual and infrared imagery of cloud cover over a swath 1,800 miles wide. Additional satellite sensors measure atmospheric vertical profiles of moisture and temperature. Military weather forecasters use these data to monitor and predict regional and global weather patterns; including the presence of severe thunderstorms, hurricanes, and typhoons.

The DMSP satellites also measure local charged particles and electromagnetic fields to assess the impact of the ionosphere on ballistic-missile early warning radar systems and long-range communications. Additionally, these data are used to monitor global auroral activity and to predict the effects of the space environment on military satellite operations.

Tracking stations at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.; New Boston Air Force Station, NH; Thule Air Base, Greenland and Kaena Point, Hawaii, receive DMSP data and electronically transfer them to two military weather centers, one at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and the other at Monterey, Calif. Field and sea units with special equipment can also receive data directly from the satellites.

The Block 5D-2 is the current generation of DMSP vehicle. Block 5D-3, with a projected first launch in 1999, will provide increased capabilities, including improved sensors and a longer life span.

In May 1994, the President directed the Departments of Defense and Commerce to converge their separate polar orbiting weather satellite programs. DMSP, operated under a tri-agency organization (DoC, DoD, and NASA), will continue to provide essential environmental sensing data to the warfighter.

Air Force Materiel Command's Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is responsible for development and acquisition of DMSP systems.

DMSP Specifications

Weight: 1,750 pounds

Orbit altitude: Approximately 450 nautical miles


11 feet, 6 inches high; 4 feet, 9 inches wide; 19 feet, 3 inches long

Power plant: Solar array generating 1,000 watts

Launch vehicle: Titan II

Primary contractor: Martin Marietta Astro Space

(Current as of July 1995)


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