SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
During a recent visit to Peterson Air Force Base, General John E. Hyten, commander of United States Strategic Command, took time out to pay respects to his former troop, Chief Master Sgt. Paul Rayman, by officiating his retirement ceremony. During the ceremony, Hyten spoke very highly of Rayman and their time together at the 6th Space Operations Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit at Schriever AFB, Colorado. Laughter from stories told by Hyten about his first command, and Rayman as a young Airman, filled the air as the crowd was reminded of the legacy both were a part of.
In 1996, then Lt. Col. Hyten commanded 6th SOPS at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, operating the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. He was the last 6th SOPS commander, during its time as an active duty unit, to operate one of the longest-serving satellite programs in Department of Defense history.
Knowledge of the DMSP, initially known as Program 35 at the time of its first launch in 1959, was limited to “need to know” personnel only. Early DMSP operations provided cloud-cover imagery used to plan U.S. photographic reconnaissance and surveillance missions. A film return system would eject film canisters that were retrieved mid-air by a JC-130 and NC-130 Hercules aircraft. Newer DMSP satellites replaced film canisters with solid state recorders.
Today, they still deliver cloud cover imagery in addition to information on thermal microwave radiation, sea surface winds, and ice coverage. Measurements of the magnetic field near the space vehicle enable accurate predictions of space weather conditions. The satellites operate in a sun-synchronous orbit with periods of 101 minutes, orbiting the earth 14.3 times in 24 hours at about 28,000 kilometers per hour. As written on the wall of the 6 SOPS operations floor, “We fly ‘em fast and low, not high and slow.” During a typical satellite support, the operators have between seven and fourteen minutes to complete all of their mission objectives and solve any unanticipated anomalies.
DMSP is currently operated jointly by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operators in Suitland, Mayland, and 6 SOPS. Highly skilled operators rely on extensive knowledge of DMSP subsystems, data retrieval, and contingency operations. Under guidance of a crew commander, system and vehicle operators work as a team during contingency situations to ensure all of their data gets to their customers in a time constrained environment. Their unofficial slogan is “Get Data or Die”, so there is very rarely a time that their users miss out on their data.
Running for over 58 years, DMSP is the oldest continuously operated satellite program in the history of space operations. Through all of those years there have been countless members, contributors, and supporters of the constellation. On Sep. 10, 2017, some of those legacy operators were able to join current operators for a photo with Hyten and Rayman. 6th SOPS will continue to fly DMSP proudly and represent all of the hard work and dedication that has been placed into the weather satellite program for years to come.