U.S. Air Force blames power failure for loss of DMSP-F19 weather satellite

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WASHINGTON – A power failure affecting an encrypted command-and-control system on board the U.S. Air Force’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight-19 spacecraft is to blame for the loss of the two-year-old weather satellite, the Air Force announced July 25.

The DMSP-F19 flight team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates all civilian and military weather satellites under an 1994 presidential directive, lost the ability to control the satellite Feb. 11 but continues to receive telemetry and some real-time weather data from it. The Air Force has given up on returning the satellite to normal operations.

Built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems and launched in April 2014, DMSP-F19 helped weather forecasters predict fog, thunderstorms and hurricanes that could have an impact on military operations. The spacecraft was the Air Force’s newest weather satellite on orbit and had a five-year design life.

“The satellite is not repairable and no further action will be taken to recover it,” the Air Force said in a July 25 press release announcing that its so-called satellite anomaly resolution team had completed its investigation.

“The anomaly team determined there was a power failure within the command and control system affecting on board cryptographic equipment,” the Air Force said. “Due to this failure, commands are unable to reach the command processor. Both the A and B side of the command and control subsystem failed, eliminating the possibility of commanding via a back-up command path.”

While NOAA operators are unable to control DMSP-F19, the satellite remains in a “safe and stable configuration” and continues to provide some real-time tactical weather data, the Air Force said. However, the quality of that data is expected to degrade as the satellite’s pointing accuracy degrades and will eventually become unusable.

Lauren Fair, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, said that as the prime contractor, the Sunnyvale, California, company was responsible for the subsystem.

“We fully supported the Air Force’s efforts to review the anomaly experienced by DMSP-19 and continue to provide ongoing sustainment and operations for the constellation,” she said in a July 25 email to SpaceNews.

The DMSP constellation requires at least two primary satellites and two backup satellites to gather cloud imagery. As a result of the problem, the Air Force in February reassigned an older satellite, DMSP Flight 17, which launched in 2006 and had been serving as a backup, into a primary role.