- Press Release
- Dec 9, 2022
Defense Support Program Satellite Decommissioned
Northrop Grumman-Built Flight 19 Retired Following 9 Years of Service
The United States Air Force’s Defense Support Program (DSP) Flight 19 satellite, built by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC), was decommissioned today following nine years of service. Northrop Grumman personnel stationed at the company’s Telemetry and Orbital Test Station in Redondo Beach, Calif., terminated the downlink to Flight 19 at the Air Force’s command.
Flight 19 was launched on April 9, 1999 on a Titan IV launch vehicle with an Inertial Upper stage (IUS) rocket. Six hours following the launch, the two stages of the IUS failed to separate completely, leaving the satellite out of control and in a useless geo-transfer orbit (at approximately 320 kilometers and a high apogee altitude at about 34,000 kilometers).
Skilled operators on the ground quickly recognized the anomaly and took steps to bring the satellite under control. Nonetheless, Flight 19 was declared a “failed launch,” and the satellite was never brought into operational status. It was unable to perform its early warning missile detection mission because of its orbit.
The Air Force, however, thought the satellite might still have some utility and directed Northrop Grumman technical personnel to work out procedures to perform periodic earth acquisitions. The team succeeded, enabling Flight 19 to be put to use for mission-related and scientific purposes.
“An anomaly placed DSP-19 in a non-operational orbit, and the Air Force and Northrop Grumman team used it as a test and checkout satellite to collect vital data to better manage the operational DSP fleet and improve future space systems performance,” said Lt. Col. Joe Coniglio, DSP program manager, U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.
“Flight 19 had a three-year design life, a five-year design goal, and lived nine years traveling in a much more hostile radiation environment than it was designed to withstand,” said Fred Ricker, vice president of the Military Systems division for Northrop Grumman’s Space Technology sector. “This satellite is a poster child for the amazing reliability of Northrop Grumman-built satellites and is a testament to the technical savvy of Northrop Grumman and Air Force personnel. We are proud to have been a partner with the Air Force on this program, which has contributed to the nation’s safety and security for nearly 40 years.”
During its nine years in orbit, Flight 19:
— Served as a test bed to check out command and control procedures.
— Helped operators enhance the existing DSP constellation performance by characterizing battery, solar array and attitude control performance, thermal effects and command and control capability.
— Traveled through the Van Allen radiation belts twice a day, providing data on the longevity of systems exposed to intense radiation.
— Viewed the Earth and its environment from different angles, providing information that could not be obtained by a satellite in geosynchronous orbit.
— Functioned as a test bed during the development of command systems at Northrop Grumman’s Telemetry and Orbital Test Station (TOTS), enabling TOTS to become a fully functional, Air Force-accredited operations control center.
“Although DSP-19 was never used for its intended missile warning missions, it still provided valuable service in support of other important mission,” said Col. Roger Teague, Infrared Systems Wing Commander, Space and Missile Systems Center. “The DSP operational constellation remains healthy with an outstanding 37-year legacy of vigilant surveillance.”
The first DSP built by Northrop Grumman for the Air Force was launched in November 1970; the last DSP was launched in November 2007. DSP spacecraft have demonstrated remarkable reliability, exceeding their specified design lives by nearly 250 percent.
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense and technology company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.