Defense Meteorological Satellite Program


The DMSP mission is to collect and disseminate global, high-resolution visible & thermal cloud cover imagery, and other critical air, land, sea, and space environment data to Department of Defense (DoD) forces and the intelligence community (IC).  DMSP data is also furnished to the civilian community through the Department of Commerce (DoC). 


DMSP is managed by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate (RS) at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.  Command and control of the DMSP constellation is provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Satellite Operational Facility (NSOF) in Suitland, Maryland.  Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Sunnyvale, California and  Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, Azusa, California  are the co-prime contractors for the satellite, for the spacecraft and the onboard sensor suite, respectively.

Initially, DMSP was highly classified and run by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), in support of the CORONA program and its first reconnaissance satellites.  Initially launched in 1962 as Program 35, then later re-designated as the Data Acquisition and Processing Program (DAPP), DMSP is now in its sixth decade of service as the sole DoD operational weather satellite system and is the longest running production satellite program to date.  The DMSP satellites have been launched off a number of rockets from Vandenberg AFB, including the Scout rocket, Thor, Atlas E, Titan II, Delta IV, and Atlas V.  Like other long running programs, DMSP has undergone a number of major evolutions to improve its environmental sensing capability for the warfighters.  Over the years, the Air Force, in partnership with NOAA, has worked to continually improve the developing science of weather forecasting. 

Today, DMSP provides strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the U.S. military in planning operations at sea, on land, and in the air.  DMSP also provides situational awareness during mission execution and critical resource protection.

The DMSP satellites are uniquely designed to meet the military’s tough requirements for worldwide space and terrestrial weather information. Through these satellites, military weather forecasters can detect developing patterns of weather, track existing weather systems over remote areas, and alert the civil and military communities of anticipated hazards in space to satellites and personnel.  DMSP sensors provide visible, infrared, microwave and space weather data to enhance information available to the warfighter.  Products provided to warfighters include: visual and infrared cloud monitoring, night time lights, sea ice thickness, sea surface wind speed, contrails predictions, temperature and moisture profiles, and auroral boundaries.  Additionally, space environmental data is used to assist in determining the safety and efficiency of high-frequency communications, over-the-horizon radar, spacecraft drag, and reentry tasks. 

System Features

DMSP satellites circle the Earth at an altitude of 458 nautical miles in a near-polar, sun-synchronous Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Satellites are three-axis stabilized and provide precision pointing to support mission sensors.   The primary sensors on board, the Operational Linescan System (OLS), observes clouds via visible and infrared spectrum for use in worldwide cloud forecasts.  Each OLS scans an area 1,800 miles wide and covers the entire Earth in about 12 hours.  The secondary sensors include Special Sensor Microwave Imager Sounder (SSMIS), which provides all-weather capability for worldwide tactical operations and is particularly useful in forecasting and identifying types of severe storm activities.  The spacecraft also carries a suite of additional secondary space weather sensors, which collect a broad range of meteorological and space environmental data for forecasting and analysis. 

DMSP satellites provide meteorological data, in real time, to the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps tactical ground stations and to Navy ships worldwide.  This data is also stored in recorders on the satellites for later transmission to one of five ground stations; NOAA ground station at Fairbanks, AK; New Boston, NH.; Thule Air Base, Greenland; Kaena Point, HI, and McMurdo station at Antarctica.  From these ground stations, data is relayed to the 557th Weather Wing (formerly known as the Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA)) at Offutt Air Force Base, NE, and to the U.S. Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorological and Oceanographic Center (FNMOC) at Monterey, CA, where this information is used to compile and disseminate numerous worldwide weather and space environmental products. 


  • Satellite height: 14 feet, 3 inches

  • Satellite diameter: 4 feet

  • Length: 25 feet (in orbit with solar array deployed)

  • Weight: at launch, 2721 pounds; in orbit, 2557 pounds, including 772-pound sensor payload

  • Power Source is a deployable, sun-tracking solar array

  • First launch on 23 August 1962

  • Most recent launch on 3 April 2014

(Current as of September 2018)