The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) is the longest running production satellite program ever. In 50 years of service, DMSP satellites have saved billions of dollars and countless human lives as a result of timely weather forecasts.
Initially, the DMSP program was highly classified and run by the National Reconnaissance Program (NRP), 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.
Today, 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. The satellites, equipped with a sophisticated sensor suite, can:
- Image visible and infrared cloud cover
- Measure precipitation, surface temperature and soil moisture
- Collect specialized global meteorological, oceanographic and solar-geophysical information in all weather conditions
The constellation comprises two spacecraft in near-polar orbits, C3 (command, control and communications), user terminals and weather centers. The latest launch occurred on October 18, 2009 when DMSP F-18 roared into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.
In its 50 year history, 41 DMSP satellites have been successfully launched. 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.