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SMC celebrates Defense Support Program's 45th anniversary

An DSP satellite launches from the Shuttle Atlantis in 1991 during the STS-44 mission. (Courtesy photo/NASA)

A Defense Support Program satellite deploys from the space shuttle Atlantis during the STS-44 mission in 1991. (Courtesy photo/NASA)

The Air Force Space Command-operated Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites are a key part of North America’s early warning systems. In their 22,300-mile geosynchronous orbits, DSP satellites help protect the United States and its allies by detecting missile launches, space launches and nuclear detonations.

The Air Force Space Command-operated Defense Support Program satellites are a key part of North America’s early warning systems. In their 22,300-mile geosynchronous orbits, DSP satellites help protect the United States and its allies by detecting missile launches, space launches and nuclear detonations.

The last DSP satellite rockets towards space aboard a Delta IV Heavy, Nov. 11. (Photo by Ben Cooper, Spaceflight Now)

The last Defense Support Program satellite rockets towards space aboard a Delta IV Heavy from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Nov. 11, 2007. (Photo by Ben Cooper, Spaceflight Now)

CAPE CANAVERAL AFS, Fla. -- A Delta IV Heavy rocket lifts off late in the evening of Nov. 10 from Launch Pad 37B here, marking the first operational use of this configuration. Payload for the mission was DSP-23, the last of the Defense Support Program satellites. The 45th Space Wing's support helped ensure public safety and mission success via radar, telemetry, communications and meteorological systems.
ULA photo by Carleton Bailie

A Delta IV Heavy rocket lifts off late in the evening of Nov. 11, 2007 from Space Launch Complex 37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., marking the first operational use of this configuration. Payload for the mission was DSP-23, the last of the Defense Support Program satellites. (ULA photo/Carleton Bailie)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif. -- The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base celebrated the 45th anniversary of the launch of the first Defense Support Program satellite today. It was the beginning of a satellite constellation that has provided early missile warning to our nation's leaders and warfighters for almost five decades.

The maiden launch of a DSP spacecraft aboard a Titan IIIC rocket from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., was successfully accomplished on Nov. 6, 1970. For 45 years, the DSP early warning satellite system has provided 24-hour, worldwide surveillance for missile warning and nuclear burst detection and serves as the space segment of the U.S. Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment System. 

The DSP program was a follow-on to the Missile Defense Alarm System and Vela Programs. MIDAS was started in 1960 and proved the operational concept of space based infrared detectors and other technologies by 1963. The Vela program was developed in 1963 to monitor nuclear test ban treaty compliance. Both programs were consolidated into the Defense Support Program. Since then, a dedicated team of scientists, engineers, acquisition specialists, civilian contractors and space professionals has ensured that the DSP system performed better than advertised with the successful delivery of 22 satellites on-orbit.

"Starting with the first launch 45 years ago and continuing today, this venerable satellite system has stared down on the Earth from its geosynchronous orbit tens of thousands of miles above our planet's surface," said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, SMC commander and Air Force program executive officer for space. "The resiliency and tenacity of the DSP constellation is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the men and women across the government and industry team of the Defense Support Program. We offer our congratulations on the achievement of such a monumental milestone, and look forward to many more years of mission success!"

The original contractors for the DSP satellite were TRW - now Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems - for the spacecraft and Aerojet - now Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems - for the infrared sensor. In 2001 and 2002, Aerojet and TRW became part of Northrop Grumman Corporation and today, Northrop Grumman continues to sustain the on-orbit spacecraft through its facilities in Redondo Beach and Azuza, Calif. and at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo.

"The Defense Support Program has a rich history providing invaluable support to the nation's critical nuclear deterrence mission helping to win the Cold War and providing theater missile warning to warfighters and allies during Desert Storm," said Col. Mike Guetlein, director, Remote Sensing Systems Directorate. "It continues to provide strategic and theater missile threat deterrence to this day, and we are extremely proud of the DSP legacy."

Acquisition and sustainment support for the DSP constellation is managed by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate for SMC at Los Angeles AFB in El Segundo, Calif., and at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. RS also manages the follow-on capability to DSP, the Space Based Infrared System program, which builds on DSP's legacy of providing timely warning of strategic and theater missile warning threats and other infrared terrestrial events. Both systems are operated by the 460th Space Wing headquartered at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. 


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