Boeing pride at Delta IV success

by Chris Bergin

For only the second time a Boeing Delta IV has launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying the Defense Meteorological Satellite (F17) into a near Polar orbit for the US military on Saturday morning.

Liftoff of the Delta IV Medium occurred at 5:53 am. Pacific time from Space Launch Complex (SLC) 6. The DMSP-17 payload was successfully deployed approximately 18 minutes later.


The first launch of the Delta IV came after it was sat at the pad complex through three years of delays, before finally making its west coast debut on June 27, carrying the NROL-22 satellite into orbit.

The DMSP constellation comprises two spacecraft in near-polar orbits, C3 (command, control and communications), user terminals and weather centers.  The spacecraft is 3.7 meters in length with a diameter of 1.2 meters with a design life of 2-3 years.

‘The DMSP constellation has the critical job of providing specialized weather data to aid the U.S. military in planning operations at sea, on land and in the air,’ said Dan Collins, vice president of Boeing Launch Systems. ‘The Delta team is proud to contribute to this important capability for national defense with this first launch of a DMSP satellite aboard a Delta rocket.’

This was the seventh Delta IV launch since the configuration began flying in November 2002 and the third of the Medium configuration. This was the first direct injection mission for Delta IV. Thousands of people around the world watched the stunning ride uphill and into orbit via the Rocketcam views provided by Ecliptic Enterprises Corp.

‘With this second successful launch of a Delta IV from the West Coast this year, and the third Delta IV mission in 2006, we are seeing this new launch vehicle family being put through its paces and building a record of reliability,’ Collins added. ‘I’m very pleased with the vehicle performance and the dedication to mission success demonstrated by the Delta team.’

The Delta IV for the DMSP-17 mission comprised a common booster core and first stage powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-68 engine. The second stage was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10B-2 engine with an extendible nozzle. A four-meter-diameter composite fairing topped the stack and encapsulated the payload.

SLC-6 is the West Coast launch site for the Boeing Delta IV family of launch vehicles that provides the Air Force the strategic capability to launch national security satellites to polar, Sun-synchronous and high-inclination orbits. It can support all five configurations of the Delta IV family.

The Lockheed Martin built DMSP satellites are used for strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the U.S. military in planning operations at sea, on land and in the air.

Equipped with a sophisticated sensor suite that can image visible and infrared cloud cover and measure precipitation, surface temperature, and soil moisture, the satellite collects specialized global meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-geophysical information in all weather conditions.

Each DMSP satellite has a 101 minute, sun-synchronous near-polar orbit at an altitude of 830km above the surface of the earth. The visible and infrared sensors (OLS) collect images across a 3000km swath, providing global coverage twice per day. The combination of day/night and dawn/dusk satellites allows monitoring of global information such as clouds every six hours.

The microwave imager (MI) and sounders (T1, T2) cover one half the width of the visible and infrared swath. These instruments cover polar regions at least twice and the equatorial region once per day. The space environment sensors (J4, M, IES) record along-track plasma densities, velocities, composition and drifts. 

Military weather forecasters can use the system to detect developing patterns of weather and track existing weather systems over remote areas, including the presence of severe thunderstorms, hurricanes and typhoons.

The 50th Space Wing at Falcon Air Force Base, Colorado, provides command and control support for all DMSP satellites. Tracking stations are located at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.; New Boston Air Force Station, N.H.; Thule Air Base, Greenland and Kaena Point, Hawaii.

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