Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ULA readies DMSP-19 for flight on Atlas V rocket

     The U.S. Air Force is scheduled to launch their Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Flight 19 on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket, on Thursday, April 3, from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s (VAFB) Space Launch Complex 3. The ULA launch team has a 10-minute flight window that opens at 7:46 a.m. PDT. This launch will mark the 80th mission for ULA since the company was founded as a joint venture between Lockheed-Martin and Boeing in December of 2006.

     “The ULA team is focused on attaining Perfect Product Delivery for the DMSP-19 mission, which includes a relentless focus on mission success (the perfect product) and also excellence and continues improvements in meeting all of the needs of our customers (the perfect delivery),” said Vice President of Atlas and Delta Programs, Jim Sponnick, in a statement released by ULA.

     DMSP-19’s mission will be to track global environmental, meteorological, and oceanographic conditions, and relay that information in conjunction with a large array of other DMSP satellites and ground-based observatories to the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies.

     Satellites with the DMSP program gather images in the visible and infrared wavelengths that can determine variation in cloud formation, currents in bodies of water, surface temperatures of land and water, and study ice and snow. This data is primarily used during the planning and support of war efforts for worldwide U.S military operations.

     “DMSP satellites provide the only high-resolution, strike quality, guaranteed meteorological data to the DOD,” said Lt. Colonel Dan Daniels. “It’s one of the most critical, cross-cutting capabilities needed to ensure mission success across the spectrum of DOD operations.”

     This program originally started as a classified military operation back in the 1960s and was declassified in March 1973. The Air Force Space Command manages this program with additional orbit operational support provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Payload:

     Instruments used by DMSP-19 are located within the satellite’s three primary sections known as the space segment, the command, control, and communications segment (C3S), and the user segment. Sensors continually record data within the space segment, which stores and transmits information to the C3S for eventual broadcast to ground receivers for review. The user segment also aids in transmitting raw data from the space segment’s sensors that can be in the forum of stored data downlinks and real-time streams.

     This complex system of satellites should be able to provide nearly complete coverage of global cloud formations and activity, because of heliosynchronous orbits that cross any point on the Earth twice a day and orbital periods around 101 minutes.

The Launch Vehicle:

     There are two distinct stages to the Atlas V 401 in this configuration. The rocket is approximately 189 ft tall when fully assembled and sitting on the launch pad. This includes the main Atlas V booster, which is 12.5 ft in diameter, and 106.5 ft in length, constructed from spun-formed aluminum domes and isogrid aluminum barrels that form it’s fuel tank. Propelling this booster upon launch is a Russian-made RD-180 engine, which will deliver 860,200 pounds of thrust fueled by liquid oxygen and controlled in-flight by a Centaur avionics system.

     The RD-180, produced by NPO Energomash, has been at the center of controversy since Russia’s military actions in the Ukraine.

     A cryogenic-fueled Centaur vehicle, which is powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant, makes up the second stage of this rocket. A RL10A Centaur engine produced by Aerojet Rocketdyne in West Palm Beach, Fla., will fire after the Atlas’ fuel is spent and continue the spacecraft into orbit with 22,300 pounds of thrust.

     Soon after the second stage takes over the 4-m, 14 foot diameter large payload fairing (LPF) will separate into its two separate components which encapsulates and protects the DMSP spacecraft during launch through Earth’s atmosphere.

The Launch:

     DMSP-19 will fly at a near-south trajectory on its way to reaching a nearly-polar Sun-synchronous orbit. Tracking stations at the Western Range (VAFB), AFSCN Station on Diego Garcia (REEF), Thule (POGO), and RAF Oakhanger (LION) will assist with the launch vehicle’s telemetry in flight, along with the help of orbiting Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) constellation satellites in space.

     A standard pitch/yaw/roll maneuver will occur after liftoff sending the rocket on a 186.4-degree flight path. Main booster cutoff and separation should happen around 4 minutes into the flight with final DMSP-19 separation happening at 18 minutes after liftoff.

     “We’ve delivered more than 40 DMSP satellites over 50 years, so this launch represents a long partnership in monitoring and predicting weather,” said Lockheed-Martin’s DMSP Program Manager, Sue Stretch. “I congratulate the entire Air Force-industry team that designed, built and tested this satellite, which is ready to serve our military and civil users.”

     This is the first of four scheduled United Launch Alliance flights which will take place out of Vandenberg for 2014. The most recent DMSP launch, DMSP-18, occurred back on October 18, 2009, also using a ULA Atlas V 401 launch vehicle. This is slated to be a busy year for the Colorado-based company – with 15 launches currently on its manifest for 2014. However, a recent issue with the Eastern Range (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station) has seen one launch, that of the National Reconnaissance Office’s, NROL-67 mission be pushed back to mid-April at the earliest. It is likely that these delays will cause a “ripple-effect” with the other planned 2014 launches – causing them to be delayed.

By James Tutten

(Above photo provided by USAF / ULA.)

(Published at on April 2, 2014.)

DMSP-19 being sealed into the payload fairing before launch. (Photo Credit: ULA)


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