[FPSPACE] USAF weather satellite DMSP Block 5D-2 F-11
zirconic1 at earthlink.net
Thu Jun 3 18:39:04 EDT 2004
From: LARRY KLAES <ljk4 at msn.com>
The USAF weather satellite DMSP Block 5D-2 F-11 (S-12),
launched in 1991 and retired in 1995, has exploded in orbit
with debris objects generated.
DMSP, originally known as the Defense System Applications Program (DSAP) and
the Defense Acquisition and Processing Program (DAPP), is a long-term USAF
effort in space to monitor the meteorological, oceanographic and
solar-geophysical environment of the Earth in support of DoD operations. All
spacecraft launched have had a tactical (direct readout) and a strategic
(stored data) capacity. In December 1972, DMSP data was declassified and
made available to the civil/scientific community. The USAF maintains an
operational constellation of two near-polar, sun-synchronous satellites
A few not-so-random comments:
There is a program underway to merge the DoD and civilian polar orbiting metsats into the NPOESS program. This program was initiated back in the early 1990s as part of the "reinventing government" effort and its objective is to save money. But it's now a decade later and we are still flying separate systems. There are problems with NPOESS, in some ways caused by the success of DMSP. The merged system is supposed to be paid for by both the military and the civilians (NOAA).
Right now one problem is that the DMSP satellites are lasting longer than planned and so the military is cutting money from NPOESS, delaying the system. The initial availability date for NPOESS was 2008 and it has now slipped to 2009 or even 2010. You really have to scratch your head in wonder at how a decision to merge something is made in (I think) 1994 and it then takes 15-16 years to actually achieve it.
I have an article series in the works on the early DMSP program, long before it was called that, or DSAP, or DAPP. A few of my findings follow.
(An aside: Bart Hendrickx has a very detailed article on the history of Soviet/Russian metsats in a recent issue of JBIS. I also wrote a short article on the origins of DMSP for Spaceflight several years ago and published the first declassified photograph of the Block I satellite. Cargill Hall wrote a fairly comprehensive history of DMSP for Quest several years ago. My upcoming article series focuses much more on the pre-history and the early history of the program than Cargill's does, and will not cover the later history. One of my interests is how the United States ended up with independent civilian and military metsats, when a combined system makes more sense. I think it can be explained primarily by bureaucratic politics, and NOT different requirements.)
Metsats were one of the two major satellite projects considered by the USAF starting in 1946. RAND studied them in the early 1950s. But by the mid-1950s the Air Force had pretty much lost interest in this mission. I am not sure why this happened. I recently acquired some of the 1955-56 contractor status reports on the USAF reconsat program and weather's impact on reconnaissance operations are covered in detail in them. Clearly the USAF knew that cloud cover was heavy over the USSR and would impact satellite reconnaissance. However, recon was the more important mission. The satellite program office had very little money, so they could only afford to look at a few missions. I also suspect that once they had selected a specific technology for the reconsat (film scanning, not television), they neglected the metsat mission.
RCA lost a bid to build the reconsat for the USAF. I recently acquired one of their early 1956 documents that essentially described their bid for this project (not exactly, but that's not important). RCA was, to my surprise, actually proposing a fairly big reconsat. They lost and they then went to the US Army for funding. Wernher von Braun funded an Army reconsat at a low level for a few years. This had to be a much smaller satellite in order to fit on the Jupiter rocket. But by 1957 von Braun was told that the Army could not build a reconsat, so von Braun decided to turn the RCA project into a metsat. When the Army Ballistic Missile Agency was taken over by NASA, that project (called Janus) became the Tiros metsat.
Tiros was much smaller than the RCA reconsat proposed in 1956. Tiros, which was first launched in April 1960, was a limited system with a number of drawbacks. One big problem was its low inclination orbit. It did not even fly over Moscow. So it had limited utility for military use.
The USAF apparently did almost nothing regarding metsats from 1956 until 1961. RAND produced a few small papers on this subject during that time, and Lockheed proposed a couple of ambitious large metsats. RAND produced a report after the Genetrix balloons floated over Russia that stated that clouds were a big problem for robotic reconnaissance systems. This was a warning that any reconnaissance satellite would face problems from clouds. But USAF was scraping for funding for its satellite program and the Air Force leadership did not really want to fund any satellite project until after Sputnik.
Once Tiros was operational, the USAF wanted to take it over. But it was not ideal for military use. So the USAF started to study its own metsat and proposed taking over operational control of Tiros from NASA. After all, NASA was not supposed to be an operational agency.
What happened was that the intelligence community decided that the metsat was important for reconnaissance satellite operations and too important to be left to the USAF. This appears to have resulted from two things. First, the early CORONA recon missions had a lot of clouds covering targets (about 25-50%). Second, CORONA was going to get an upgrade that would allow it to be programmed to avoid taking photos of cloud-covered targets. As a result, the intel guys decided that a metsat would be useful. So they took over the fledgling Air Force program. It was initially designated Program IIA, but eventually became Program 417, and was run by the NRO.
Program 417 was a highly classified program but was a very small program. They contracted with RCA to build small satellites using components from Tiros. The satellites were about half the size of Tiros with no redundancy. They were launched aboard Scout boosters, which failed regularly.
The plan was to run 417 as an interim program until the Nimbus satellite began operation around 1963. Nimbus was supposed to be the follow-on to Tiros. But NASA messed up Nimbus and this led to delays and to a major fight with the Weather Bureau. Ultimately, Program 417 became permanent and the Weather Bureau cooperated with the NRO to develop what was named the Tiros Operational System, or TOS (the first one was Tiros IX). Nimbus became a climate science satellite.
Eventually Program 417 demonstrated its abilities and became a real success. It was pressed into service during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which impressed a lot of people in the USAF. After a year or so it was turned over to the regular Air Force and starting in 1964 it was run by Strategic Air Command. It was also soon used in Vietnam. Because of its origins, 417 remained classified (although at a lower level) until 1972. In 1972 the USAF announced that it had been operating the program since 1964, but it had actually been operating since 1962.
Over the years there have apparently been something like 7-8 separate studies on merging the civilian and miltary metsat programs, all of which came to the conclusion that it was not a good idea. I haven't seen any of these studies, but I still find it hard to believe that the requirements for the two are that different. And the NPOESS experience (well over a decade to merge two systems) makes it hard to understand.
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