Air Force Secretary Calls DMSP Satellites ‘Out of Date’

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force’s top civilian admitted that the technology in the two aging Defense Meteorological Support Program (DMSP) military weather satellites that the service plans to launch is “out-of-date.”

The service will launch the two satellites anyway because they can still provide useful capability, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said during an April 5 Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington.

The Defense Department will continue to rely on the DMSP system, which dates back to the 1960s, after the cancelation of the next-generation Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) in 2012.

The Air Force will refurbish two 1990s-vintage satellites, DMSP F19 and DMSP F20, in preparation for upcoming launches, and has requested $89 million in 2013 for the effort. DMSP F19 is scheduled to launch sometime between Oct. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2014, with DMSP F20 to follow on an as-needed schedule. The two satellites are in storage at prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver. Michael Friedman, a spokesman for the company, declined to comment on Donley’s characterization of the DMSP satellites.

The Air Force has identified problems with the suite of microwave and ultraviolet sensors that are on the final two DMSP satellites but has a plan to fix them, according to budget documents.

The Air Force terminated DWSS in January at the direction of Congress, which also gave the service $123.5 million for work on an unspecified follow-on system. Air Force officials have said they are not sure how they will spend that money but is working with Congress to figure that out. Donley declined to provide an update on plans for spending that money.

The DWSS program was hatched in 2010 when the White House terminated the civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), which was behind schedule and well over its planned budget. The White House directed the civilian National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Pentagon to pursue separate systems. From the beginning, however, Congress expressed strong reservations about DWSS, which like NPOESS was being led by prime contractor Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.