In the absolute silence of space, a special group of satellites circles our planet in a fast, low earth orbit, their cameras and sensors point toward Earth as they record endless data and images of storm systems and weather patterns moving across the globe below.
Back on the ground, hidden in a D.C. suburb, Maj. Jonathan Whitaker squints against the sun and points to Marine One, the U.S. president’s dedicated helicopter, as it arches its way across the horizon of the nation’s capital.
Whitaker is commander of Detachment 1, 50th Operations Group, which belongs to the 50th Space Wing, Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. However, the geographically separated unit places its guidon flag hundreds of miles east, in Suitland, Maryland.
With a small contingent of four Air Force officers, the detachment is responsible for seven satellites that comprise the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, or DMSP. The team coordinates with the space experts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, contractor corporations and military organizations to maintain the command, control, and health of Defense Department weather assets.
“We’re sort of a way point for the pilots as they travel through the area,” Whitaker explained, standing in the shadow of a large antenna dish atop NOAA’s Satellite Operations Center.
Little may the helicopter pilots know, they not only rely on NOAA’s array as a minor urban visual aid. Its antennae are always pointed toward the sky in anticipation of a satellite flyover — which allows the operators inside the building to send and receive thousands of lines of vital international weather data — the very same data that pilots around the world use to make flight predictions.
The DMSP network is the DOD’s only weather satellite constellation and has provided military and civilian agencies with global meteorological and environmental data for more than five decades.
While users vary from the National Weather Service to the National Hurricane Center, its primary customers are the Air Force Weather Agency and the Navy’s Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center. They take data from DMSP and NOAA’s other satellites and combine it to create various mission-specific weather forecasts.
Source:: Air Force Space Command