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Northrop Grumman Defense Support Program Satellite

Early Warning Satellite

Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites have provided the U.S. Air Force with early warning of ballistic missile launches and nuclear detonations for more than 40 years. The DSP satellite’s infrared sensors detect heat from missile plumes against the Earth’s background. This structural test vehicle includes the silver cone-shaped infrared sensor without its associated electronics. Structural test vehicles are full-sized units used to verify that all the components fit together correctly.

The USAF developed DSP satellites in response to the growing threat from Soviet and Chinese nuclear ballistic missiles in the 1960s. The USAF launched 23 DSP satellites from 1970-2007.

DSP satellite design and capabilities improved over time. The first DSP vehicles weighed 2,000 pounds and carried 2,000 infrared detectors, while the last satellite was much heavier at 5,250 pounds with 6,000 detectors. Operating life for each satellite grew from just over a year to more than 12 years.

After the Cold War ended, DSP satellites demonstrated additional flexibility, detecting Iraqi Scud missile launches during Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991. Scientists also have used DSP infrared sensors for early warning of natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires.

The DSP structural test vehicle on display came to the museum from Northrop Grumman in August 2010.

22,300 miles (geosynchronous)
Launch vehicles: Titan IIIC, Titan 34D, Titan IV, Titan IVB, Space Shuttle, Delta IV Heavy
Power: 1,275 watts from blue-colored solar panels

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