Defense Meteorological Satellite Program
Posted: October 10, 2003

An artist's concept of a DMSP weather satellite in space. Photo: Lockheed Martin
The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program is managed at the Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. Command and control is provided by a joint-operational team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Suitland, Md.

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) mission is to generate terrestrial and space weather data for operational forces worldwide. The Air Force is the Department of Defense's executive agent for this program. The data from this program is also furnished to the civilian community through the Department of Commerce NOAA.

The DMSP satellites are designed to meet unique military requirements for worldwide weather information. Through these satellites, military weather forecasters can detect developing patterns of weather and track existing weather systems over remote areas.

Data from these satellites can help identify, locate and determine the intensity of severe weather such as thunderstorms, hurricanes and typhoons. It also can be used to form three-dimensional cloud analyses, which are the basis for computer forecast models to meet unique military requirements. Additionally, space environmental data is used to assist in high frequency communications, over-the-horizon radar and spacecraft drag and reentry tasks.

All of this quickly available information aids the military commander in making decisions. For example, data obtained through this program are especially valuable to support the launch, en route, target and recovery portions of a wide variety of strategic and tactical missions.

DMSP satellites provide meteorological data in real time to Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps tactical ground stations and Navy ships worldwide. This data is also stored in recorders on the satellites for later transmission to one of four ground stations located near Fairbanks, Alaska; New Boston, N.H.; Thule Air Base, Greenland; and Kaena Point, Hawaii.

From these command stations, data is relayed to the Air Force Weather Agency at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., to the U.S. Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorological and Oceanographic Center at Monterey, Calif., and to the Air Force's 55th Space Weather Squadron at Falcon Air Force Base, Colo., where this information is used to compile numerous worldwide weather and space environmental products.

The launch vehicle's upper-stage and the orbital satellite have been integrated into a single system. This system, which navigates from lift off and provides guidance for the spacecraft from booster separation through orbit insertion, as well as electrical power, telemetry, attitude control and propulsion for the second stage.

DMSP satellites circle the Earth at an altitude of about 500 miles in a near-polar, sun-synchronous orbit. Each scans an area 1,800 miles wide and covers the entire Earth in about 12 hours. Pointing accuracy of the satellites is maintained by four reaction wheel assemblies that provide three-axis stabilization.

The primary sensor on board is the Operational Linescan System that observes clouds via visible and infrared imagery for use in worldwide forecasts.

A second important sensor is the Special Sensor Microwave Imager, which provides all-weather capability for worldwide tactical operations and is particularly useful in typing and forecasting severe storm activity. The spacecraft also carries a suite of additional sensors, which collect a broad range of meteorological and space environmental data for forecasting and analysis.

DMSP satellites are launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The most recent occurred on Dec 12, 1999 with the launch of satellite F-15.  The next launch, F-16, will be the last Titan 2 launch of any satellite, not just DMSP.  F-17 will be on a Boeing EELV Delta 4.

The Department of Defense's executive agent for this program is located at the Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. The Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also furnishes data from this program to the civilian community. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Suitland, Md., joint-operational team provides command and control.


  • Height --12 feet, 2 inches

  • Diameter -- 3 feet, 11 inches

  • Length -- 20 feet, 2 inches (in orbit with solar array deployed)

  • Weight -- launch: 3,300 pounds; in orbit: 1,750 pounds, including 550-pound, sensor payload

  • Power Source: Deployable, sun-tracking solar array

  • Prime Contractors: Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC); Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems

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