By Scott Prater
The Air Force’s latest weather satellite may seem like a silent and static piece of technology as it stands in a California hangar in preparation for a springtime launch. But in truth, the spacecraft is already proving its worth.
While crews continue to prepare the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight-19 for launch at Vandenberg’s Payload Integration Test Facility, an entirely different group is busy testing the vehicle from 3,000 miles away.
Earlier this month, members of the 50th Operations Group Detachment 1 command and control site, located in Suitland, Md., conducted a data-link test of DMSP F-19 along with members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, spacecraft support contractors and other Department of Defense personnel.
“We’re testing for several reasons,” said Lt. Col. Dan Daniels, 50 OG Det. 1 commander. “We want to make sure the operations control center can command the satellite, that the satellite can respond to commands, that it’s onboard data recorders can downlink test data, which is ultimately transmitted to primary users, and that its primary-user systems can receive and process the data.”
This end-to-end testing helps verify that the satellite can do all it was designed to do once it is on orbit. Any problems or other issues discovered during spacecraft testing can be resolved prior to launch.
The vehicle is slated for an April 3, 2014 launch and once on orbit, will be the seventh satellite in the DMSP constellation.
Used to monitor meteorological, oceanographic and solar-terrestrial physics for the Department of Defense, DMSP satellites are managed by Air Force Space Command with on-orbit operations provided by the NOAA. They provide cloud cover imagery from polar orbits that are sun-synchronous at an altitude of 450 nautical miles. The launch comes after an extended hiatus for DMSP. Vehicle F-18 lifted off from Vandenberg in October 2009.
“DMSP satellites provide the only high-resolution, strike quality, guaranteed meteorological data to the DOD,” Daniels said. “It’s one of the most critical, cross-cutting capabilities needed to ensure mission success across the spectrum of DOD operations.”
By all accounts, the October test met its overarching goal: demonstrating F-19’s data link test readiness.
Daniels said this test is the first of its kind for the 50 OG because DMSP F-19 has an upgraded sensor compared to previous DMSP satellites.
Once the satellite launches, the DMSP team will conduct a series of early on-orbit systems testing. Daniels expects F-19 to be ready for operational use roughly six weeks after launch, when Det. 1 will assume satellite control authority and 6th Space Operations Squadron operators will conduct satellite commanding from their operations floor at Schriever.