US Air Force Blames Power Failure for Loss of DMSP-F19 Weather Satellite

DMSP-19 weather satellite illustration
The U.S. Air Force's Defense Meteorological Satellite System (DMSP)-19 satellite stopped accepting commands in February because of a power failure in the command and control subsystem. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON – A power failure affecting an encrypted command-and-control system on board the U.S. Air Force's Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight-19 spacecraft is to blame for the loss of the two-year-old weather satellite, the Air Force announced July 25.

The DMSP-F19 flight team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates all civilian and military weather satellites under an 1994 presidential directive, lost the ability to control the satellite Feb. 11 but continues to receive telemetry and some real-time weather data from it. The Air Force has given up on returning the satellite to normal operations.

Built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems and launched in April 2014, DMSP-F19 helped weather forecasters predict fog, thunderstorms and hurricanes that could have an impact on military operations. The spacecraft was the Air Force's newest weather satellite on orbit and had a five-year design life.

"The satellite is not repairable and no further action will be taken to recover it," the Air Force said in a July 25 press releaseannouncing that its so-called satellite anomaly resolution team had completed its investigation.

"The anomaly team determined there was a power failure within the command and control system affecting on board cryptographic equipment," the Air Force said. "Due to this failure, commands are unable to reach the command processor. Both the A and B side of the command and control subsystem failed, eliminating the possibility of commanding via a back-up command path."

While NOAA operators are unable to control DMSP-F19, the satellite remains in a "safe and stable configuration" and continues to provide some real-time tactical weather data, the Air Force said. However, the quality of that data is expected to degrade as the satellite's pointing accuracy degrades and will eventually become unusable.

Lauren Fair, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, said that as the prime contractor, the Sunnyvale, California, company was responsible for the subsystem.

"We fully supported the Air Force's efforts to review the anomaly experienced by DMSP-19and continue to provide ongoing sustainment and operations for the constellation," she said in a July 25 email to SpaceNews.

The DMSP constellation requires at least two primary satellites and two backup satellites to gather cloud imagery. As a result of the problem, the Air Force in February reassigned an older satellite, DMSP Flight 17, which launched in 2006 and had been serving as a backup, into a primary role.

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Editor-in-Chief, Sightline Media

Mike Gruss is a veteran defense reporter and Editor-in-Chief of Sightline Media Group, which includes Army Times, Air Force Times, Dense News, Military Times and Navy Times. From 2013 to 2016, Mike served as a Senior Staff Writer for SpaceNews covering national security space programs and military space policy in the U.S. Congress. Mike earned a bachelor's degree in English and American Studies from Miami University and has previously wrote for the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Indiana and the Virginian-Pilot in Virginia before joining SpaceNews. Prior to joining Sightline in 2017, he was a senior editor of FedTech magazine covering technology in federal government. You can see Mike's latest project on Twitter.