Five weather and space environmental sensors onboard the recently launched Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellite, F-17, have been switched on and are operating successfully, according to Northrop Grumman Corporation, the Air Force’s DMSP sensor management contractor.

DMSP F-17 was launched into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard a Delta IV rocket on Nov. 4. The satellite’s payload included two sensors designed and built by Northrop Grumman: the Operational Linescan System (OLS), which has been produced in Baltimore since the 1970s, and the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS), produced at company facilities in Azusa, Calif.

Also onboard are the Special Sensor Ion/Electron Scintillator (SSIES3), produced by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the University of Texas at Dallas; the Special Sensor Precipitating Electron Spectrometer (SSJ5) from AFRL and Amptek; and the Special Sensor Magnetometer (SSM) from AFRL and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at Goddard Space Flight Center. All three are space environment sensors. Northrop Grumman has managed these three sensors since 2000 under contracts awarded by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles AFB, Calif. “Bringing these five sensors online allows DMSP to continue delivering the best available weather and environment data reliably and continuously to the warfighter,” said Joseph J. Ensor, vice president of Surveillance and Remote Sensing for Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems sector. “We are very pleased that this most recent successful launch of DMSP will enhance our ability to support our soldiers anywhere in the world.”

DMSP satellites provide visible and infrared imagery of cloud cover day and night and measure winds, soil moisture, ice and snow coverage, and other phenomena. The data is used for weather forecasting for military operations throughout the world.

Each DMSP satellite follows an orbital path that crosses both the North and South Poles on each orbit. Because the earth rotates, each successive orbit crosses a slightly different longitudinal swath between the poles. The tracks of these swaths are planned so that regions of the Earth are imaged by the OLS sensor in an orderly, consecutive way, so that there are no gaps in coverage. Each location on the planet is imaged twice per day, once during sunlight and once during the night. Given the operational overlaps between consecutively-launched satellites, every spot on Earth has been imaged approximately 43,000 times since 1970.

The on-orbit checkout of the five sensors on DMSP F-17 was an intensive effort conducted over the first ten days of the flight from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Md. The checkout team included representatives of the Air Force, NOAA, Northrop Grumman, and Aerospace Corporation.

Northrop Grumman has been the payload sensor provider for DMSP since 1966. The company’s first DMSP payload was launched in 1970, and the program’s coverage of the Earth’s weather has been reliable, continuous and unbroken ever since. The three remaining DMSP satellites will be launched in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

Northrop Grumman celebrated the 40th anniversary of its work on DMSP in September with a special dinner for employees, retirees, customers and other invited guests.

DMSP will remain in service until the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, now under development by Northrop Grumman, is ready to take over its functions. Northrop Grumman Corporation is a $30 billion global defense and technology company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.


Tom Delaney
Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems
(410) 993-6454