NOAA 99-082
Contact: Pat Viets


A new Department of Defense meteorological satellite, to be launched by the U.S. Air Force and operated by the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is currently planned for launch Dec. 12 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The satellite is the next in a series of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program.

"This is the first DMSP whose post-launch checkout is being conducted from NOAA's Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Md.," said NOAA's John Cunningham, who heads the office responsible for combining the nation's civilian and military polar-orbiting environmental satellite programs. The merger of these programs, expected to save U.S. taxpayers $1.8 billion, was directed by President Clinton on May 5, 1994.

Previous DMSP post-launch checkouts were conducted from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. Last year, as part of the merger designed to promote efficiency and cut down public expense, the Air Force transferred control of its weather satellites to NOAA and closed its 6th Space Operations Squadron at Offutt after nearly 35 years of continuous operations. The Air Force Reserve now operates a backup DMSP command and control facility at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo.

NOAA's Suitland facility is now the primary location for providing functions associated with command and control of all U.S. weather satellites, including early orbit checkout following launch operations, satellite state-of-health maintenance, and satellite sensor and payload management.

NOAA operates two of its own civilian polar-orbiting satellites, NOAA-14 and NOAA-15. NOAA also operates the nation's geostationary environmental satellites, GOES-8, overlooking the East Coast and well out into the Atlantic Ocean, and GOES-10, overlooking the West Coast and well out into the Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii. NOAA has been operating five DMSP satellites since May of 1998.

Air Force Colonel Jeff Quirk, the DMSP program director, explained that "The DMSP satellites are used for strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the U.S. military in planning operations at sea, on land and in the air. The satellites are equipped with sophisticated sensors that can image cloud cover and general weather effects in both visible and infrared, and collect specialized meteorological, oceanographic and solar-geophysical information under all weather conditions." In addition, DMSP provides a unique microwave imaging capability not found on any other operational weather satellite.

The DMSP program office, under the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, designs, builds, launches, and maintains several near-polar orbiting, sun-synchronous satellites. DMSP satellites orbit at an altitude of approximately 830 Km above the Earth. Each satellite crosses any point on the Earth at least two times a day and has an orbital period of about 101 minutes. The DMSP constellation provides nearly complete global coverage of clouds and other meteorological and oceanographic data every six hours.

Early in the next century, DMSP and NOAA polar-orbiting satellites will converge into a combined system, known as the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, or NPOESS. NPOESS launches should begin in about 2008, after NOAA and the Air Force have both exhausted the satellites currently in the "pipeline."