U.S. military satellite launched after 15-year hold

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Thu Apr 3, 2014 3:29pm EDT

1 of 2. An Atlas 5 ULA (United Launch Alliance) rocket carrying a satellite for the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California April 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Gene Blevins

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - A U.S. military weather satellite, refurbished after more than a decade in storage, blasted off aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Thursday, a live webcast of the launch showed.

The sleek, 191-foot-tall (58-meter) rocket, built by United Launch Alliance, lifted off at 10:46 a.m. EDT to put the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program or DMSP spacecraft into a 530-mile-high orbit passing over Earth's poles. United Launch Alliance is a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.

The $518 million satellite, known as DMSP-19 and built by Lockheed Martin, joins six other operational DMSP satellites already in orbit.

The U.S. Air Force was prepared to launch DMSP-19 about 15 years ago, but the satellites in orbit were lasting much longer than expected so it went into storage instead, said Scott Larrimore, weather program director at the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.

The same fate may await the 20th and final DMSP satellite, which is being built now and targeted to launch in 2020. The Air Force, however, is mulling whether to fly it at all or launch it early to avoid costly storage fees, among other options, Larrimore told reporters during a pre-launch conference call on March 27.

That discussion is part of a larger effort to reassess military space programs in an attempt to cut costs, take advantage of new technologies and partner with other agencies when possible, he added.

The U.S. Air Force already shares data with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and will be stepping up the partnership in a new generation of weather satellites designed to serve both military and civilian needs.

It also is looking into a supplemental satellite program that can fly on smaller rockets, such as Orbital Sciences Corp's Minotaur.

DMSP-19, which is designed to last five years, is equipped with visible light and infrared cameras to image clouds - day and night - and sensors to measure precipitation, temperatures and soil moisture. The DMSP satellites also collect data about the oceans, solar storms that affect Earth and other global meteorological conditions.

"Weather is a vital element of well-planned missions," said Lockheed Martin program director Sue Stretch. "High winds limit aircraft; storms threaten ships; and low-visibility can alter troop movements. The data the DMSP provides is essential to mission success."

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Comments (4)
Atlas 5 – another Russian rocket. How many do they have left?

Apr 03, 2014 5:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Tomanthony wrote:
There is something odd going on here. It does not take 15 years for a simple weather satellite to be launched into space. I believe that the military is hiding something more sinister from the American people; indeed, the military may be lying to the American people about the content and purpose of this satellite launch. Because the American people are paying the salaries of the military personnel involved in this project as well as the rocket and satellite, then we, the American people demand to have access to all information on this satellite, including its contents, mission, and purpose—and we want to see all of this information in handbooks, instruction manuals, internal memos, and planning memos, and any other relevant documentation. Failure to submit this information will be cause for high treason on the military officials who resist this request by the American people.

Apr 03, 2014 8:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
DavidinWY wrote:
Leaving a billions of dollars satellite in the cabinet is just like leaving said billions of dollars in the closet. It has no value. So we have overlapping coverage, what harm can come from that? It’s not like there’s any nukes on-board, right?

Apr 04, 2014 2:16am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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