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DMSP Flight 15 Successfully Operated in First-Ever Gyroless Control

Defense Satellite Meteorological Program (DMSP), supported by the 6th Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. Image courtesy of Lockheed-Martin for Air Force and media publications; use for commercial purposes is prohibited.

Defense Satellite Meteorological Program satellite

Los Angeles Air Force Base -- Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 15 successfully operated for 24 hours in a gyroless navigation mode, demonstrating a new promising capability that can extend portions of the DMSP mission even when critical gyro data is not available.

This is the first DMSP satellite ever flown in a completely gyroless configuration. The gyroless concept was developed in conjunction with Lockheed Martin and flown in a 24-hour demonstration by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Satellite Operations Center in Suitland, Md.

Launched in December 1999, the DMSP satellite uses its earth sensor and sun sensor along with an innovative software estimate of yaw error to maintain proper, stable satellite attitude in this mode without any gyro inertial information.

"Though Flight 15 is operating beyond its design life, it is currently running on a single remaining gyro," said Col. Bradley Smith, commander, Defense Meteorological Systems Group.

"The DMSP team has shown outstanding ingenuity by developing new satellite control modes that require less than two gyros normally needed for attitude control to mitigate loss of mission: First, with a single gyro control mode back in 2002, and now, with this gyroless mode. We are very pleased with the success of this on-orbit demonstration since this shows DMSP can continue to support a portion of our mission even when all gyros have failed."

Flight 15 carries a radar calibration sensor that is a vital primary asset for the radar community worldwide including Department of Defense users. Flight 15 has been a secondary DMSP asset since November 2003 and has operated on a single remaining gyro for an extended period. By demonstrating stable gyroless control of the satellite, the radar calibration mission may be extended once the last remaining gyro fails. In addition, the spacecraft's secondary space environmental monitoring mission may also be extended.

The Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is the U.S. Air Force's center of acquisition excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems including six wings and three groups responsible for GPS, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control network, space based infrared systems, intercontinental ballistic missile systems and space situational awareness capabilities. SMC manages more than $60 billion in contracts, executes annual budgets of $10 billion and employs more than 6,800 people worldwide.