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AF seeks to reduce satellite operating cost by using NOAA infrastructure

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The U.S. Air Force is conducting an industry survey to determine the feasibility and associated cost for incorporating the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) command and control (C2) capability within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite ground system located at the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility (NSOF) in Suitland, Md. The Air Force made the announcement in a Request For Information (RFI) document released Friday.

“The government is interested in identifying innovative ideas from industry that enable continued ground system support of the operational mission through End-of Life (EOL) (mid 2020's) while simultaneously reducing the cost to operate and maintain the C2 capability,” the Air Force said in the RFI.

DMSP satellites collect and disseminate global visible and infrared cloud data to support worldwide Department of Defense operations and high priority programs.

The DMSP mission was to be subsumed by the new National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The NPOESS program, suffering delays and cost-overruns due to issues with sensor developments, was dissolved effective Sep. 29, 2010. Ownership of the DMSP Command, Control, and Communications (C3) Ground System, known as DC3GS, was transferred from the NPOESS Integrated Program Office to the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center in June 2010. NOAA continues to operate the system on behalf of the Air Force.

The DMSP Ground System is an earth-based network of tracking stations that provide communications, collect data and support daily satellite operations. “The DMSP operation centers that command and control the DMSP constellation have not been technically refreshed in over twenty years,” the Air Force said. “Major components of the system were reused from legacy control centers and in some cases are beyond their end of life expectancy. The ground system is operating under an Authority-to-Operate which is at risk due to system equipment being incapable of supporting current security postures.”

Primary, DMSP C2 satellite operations is conducted at NSOF's Space Operation Center in Suitland, Md. and backup at the Environmental Satellite Operations Center, operated by the 6th Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. Satellite contact is made through the Fairbanks Satellite Operations Facility, Fairbanks, Alaska; Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN); and a station in McMurdo, Antarctica. Principle DMSP users are the Air Force Weather Agency, Omaha, Neb.; and the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, Monterey, Calif.

The Air Force aims to sustain the DMSP C3 capability through the projected EOL. “Particular interest is to reduce long term operations and maintenance costs through leveraging existing NOAA or NASA infrastructure; increasing automation; use of commercial satellite ground link antennas or services; and minimizing use of AFSCN."

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