DSP Satellites: Supporting America’s Early-Warning SystemSep 30, 2012 13:39 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites have been monitoring the skies as America’s early-warning system for ballistic missile launches since their first launch in 1970. The current Satellite Early Warning System (SEWS) consists of 5 DSP satellites; 3 provide frontline operational service, with 2 available as backups should problems emerge with the primary satellites.
The program’s lifetime has seen the launch of 23 DSP satellites, and improvements to DSP via 5 upgrade sets have allowed those satellites to exceed their design lifespan. The USAF’s fact sheet lists the satellites’ unit cost at $400 million, though they do not mention what fiscal year baseline that figure is linked to. While the DSP satellites successfully detected Iraqi SCUD launches during Operation Desert Storm, testimony before Congress has noted that there are some classes of missiles the DSP constellation has trouble with. The USAF’s way over-budget SBIRS program was created to address that, but the DSP constellation will be up for a long time. This entry will be updated to cover new developments, contracts, and more.
The DSP Satellites
DSP satellites use an infrared sensor to detect heat from missile and booster plumes against the earth’s background. The first DSP was launched in 1970, and the final DSP bird was orbited in 2007.
The spacecraft and sensor were upgraded several times throughout production to protect against evolving worldwide threats. In 1995, improvements were also made to ground processing systems, in order to improve detection of short-range missiles.
Today’s DSP-I (improved) weighs 5,200 pounds vs. just 2,000 pounds for the original versions, requires 1,275 watts of power vs. 400, uses 6,000 detectors vs. 2,000, and is approximately 33 feet long and 14 feet in diameter. Recent technological improvements in sensor design include above-the-horizon capability for full hemispheric coverage and improved resolution, as well as increased on-board signal-processing capability.
The DSP constellation is being replaced by the SIBRS-High program. Unfortunately, that program has been beset by massive cost overruns, technical challenges that continue to present problems, and uncertain performance. Despite its problems, the U.S. Air Force is proceeding with the program. Until SIBRS-High is ready, however, the DSP constellation will be the USA’s sentinel against ballistic missile launches.
Contracts & Key Events
The development and acquisition of DSP satellites is managed by the Space Based Infrared System Program Office at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (Air Force Materiel Command) at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA. Contracts usually list the Headquarters Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA as the issuer.
Work will be performed in Redondo Beach, CA until Sept 30/13 (FA8810-09-C-0001, PO 0067).
Sept 23/11: Northrup Grumman Space and Mission Systems in Redondo Beach, CA receives a $39.5 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification, exercising an option for FY 2012 on-orbit support of the DSP sensors and spacecraft bus, under the defense on-orbit support and sustainment contract.
Work will be performed at Redondo Beach, CA (FA8810-09-C-0001, PO 0047)
Oct 8/09: Northrop Grumman Space Technology in Redondo Beach, CA received a $35.4 million contract modification for on-orbit sustainment of the DSP spacecraft, primary infrared sensor and mission analysis (FA8810-09-C-0001, PO 0019).
June 14/09: The USA’s DSP Flight 14 satellite reaches 20 years of on-orbit operations, following its June 14/89 launch aboard a Titan IV rocket. USAF.
Oct 1/08: Northrop Grumman Space Technology in Redondo Beach, CA received a cost-plus-award-fee $38.3 million contract to provide on-orbit sustainment support for the DSP spacecraft, primary infrared sensor and mission analysis. The contract consists of an initial year, plus 4 one-year options. If all options are exercised, the contract would have a maximum value of $206 million (FA8810-09-C-0001). See also NGC release.
Nov 11/07: United Launch Alliance launched the DSP-23 satellite aboard the 1st operational Delta IV Heavy expendable launch vehicle for the US Air Force. The DSP-23 launch completes the deployment of the DSP satellite constellation.
Sept 29/06: Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. in Redondo Beach, CA received a $41.8 million cost-plus-award fee contract modification. The Defense Support Program will extend the current spacecraft post-production support contract with Northrop Grumman Space Technology from 30 September 2006 thru 30 September 2007, due to a 1-year launch slip. This work will be complete September 2007 (F04701-96-C-0030, PO 0145)
Sept 22/06: Northrop Grumman Information Technology Inc. in Azusa, CA received a $39.2 million cost-plus-award fee contract modification which provides a one-year extension to the defense support program (DSP), sensor post production support contract (Oct. 1 2006 to Sept. 30 2007). Work will be complete September 2007 (F04701-96-C-0031, PO 0180).
Under this contract, Northrop Grumman will provide storage and storage support of the DSP satellites in accordance with satellite environmental requirements, annual testing of stored satellites, trend analysis, integration returns (repair and return failed/ obsolete components), safety analysis, load analysis, maintenance of all launch site safety requirements, multiple readiness reviews and rehearsals, multiple integrated systems test, test and prepare satellites for launch site, launch vehicle integration, sustaining engineering of the on-orbit satellites (multiple block build), early on orbit testing support for newly launched satellites, anomaly resolution and flight operations support for DSP constellation. They will also be tasked with operational performance analysis for performance assessment and mission performance improvement, including recommendation for retrofitting satellites in storage.
- US Air Force – Defense Support Program Satellites
- Northrop Grumman – Defense Support Program
- GlobalSecurity.org – Defense Support Program
- Missile Threat – Defense Support Program (DSP)
- Federation of American Scientists – Defense Support Program
- Aerospace Power Journal (Fall 2000) – America’s Space Sentinels: DSP Satellites and National Security – book review. An informative review.