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DMSP Program History and Evolution

The early "Pioneers in Space" were 90-pound, spin-stabilized satellites equipped with shutter-style TV cameras, used to collect the Earth's meteorological data for the DOD. The photos obtained were relayed to the Earth and received by two Command/Readout Stations established at retired Nike missile sites located near Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington and Loring Air Force Base, Maine.

From these sites, the photos were sent to Air Force Global Weather Central (AFGWC) located at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. Here technicians would take the electronic data displayed on an oscilloscope and transform these electronic signals into Polaroid photographs. These snapshots would then be pieced together, forming a mosaic representing the weather that was observed from the orbiting satellites. Meteorologists could then provide flight crews and other commanders with up-to-date observations for their particular missions.

Some of the problems that were encountered with these vintage spacecraft were gaps in the photos and errors in storm location induced by poor pointing accuracy of the satellites.

Spacecraft technology in the seventies brought about improved optics, signal processing, and larger payloads. With new optics, gaps in the photos were eliminated and the meteorological data could be gathered along the poorly illuminated horizon where the Sun was rising or setting. This gave meteorologists the ability to see what was coming up "around the bend." Further advancements enabled data to be collected in the visual spectrum down to a half-moonlit scene. Infrared processing enabled night viewing.

The late seventies and early eighties saw improvements in attitude control by using inertial stellar navigation and flywheel stabilization. Other enhancements increased onboard processing by including multiple onboard computers and expanded power requirements. Current on-orbit spacecraft weight now exceeds 1,400 pounds, and each satellite now has near-full redundancy for extended on-orbit life.

Now in its third decade of service, the DMSP has proven itself to be a valuable tool in scheduling and protecting military operations on land, at sea, and in the air.

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Designed and Developed by

The Aerospace Corp.

John Bohlson, Leonard Daly, and Charles Simmons
The Aerospace Corporation
Last modified on July 03, 1997

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DMSP WebMaster - James Dixon