WASHINGTON — The second-to-last satellite in the U.S. Air Force’s long-running Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) series successfully launched April 3 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. 

The DMSP program, which dates back to the 1960s, is responsible for providing global atmospheric, oceanic, terrestrial and space environment information in support of military operations. The satellites also support the nation’s intelligence-gathering program by determining the most opportune times to collect cloud-free imagery.

DMSP Flight 19 is one of two 1990s-vintage satellites the Air Force has been refurbishing with new components and sensors. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is DMSP prime contractor.  

In a conference call with reporters March 27, Air Force officials said the satellite’s final price tag exceeds $500 million, including production and nearly two decades of storage and refurbishment costs. 

“This launch represents a long partnership in monitoring and predicting weather,” Sue Stretch, Lockheed Martin’s DMSP program director, said in a statement prior to the launch. “I congratulate the entire Air Force-industry team that designed, built and tested this satellite, which is ready to serve our military and civil users.”

The last satellite in the series, DMSP Flight 20, will be launched according to an as-needed schedule. Officials from the Defense Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plan to finish a study this summer that will consider the consequences of not launching the satellite.

The DMSP satellites will be replaced starting around 2020 by the Weather System Follow-On, which will feature dedicated Air Force satellites providing data in concert with U.S. civilian and allied forecasting assets. The Air Force’s 2015 budget request includes $40 million to begin developing the system, which has been under study since the 2010 cancellation of a joint civil-military polar-orbiting weather satellite program. 


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Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...