WASHINGTON — The Air Force has concluded its investigation into a $518 million weather satellite that stopped responding to commands earlier this year, and will take no further action to recover it.
The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Flight 19 satellite malfunctioned on Feb. 11 after a power failure left both the command-and-control subsystem and its backup without the ability to reach the satellite's processor, the Air Force Space Command investigation team found.
That problem cannot be fixed remotely, leaving little possibility of returning the satellite to service.
"Both the A and B side of the command and control subsystem failed, eliminating the possibility of commanding via a back-up command path," the service said in a statement. "The satellite is not repairable and no further action will be taken to recover it."
The DMSP constellation is tasked with gathering weather data for the military — including cloud cover, precipitation and soil moisture — which aids the services in tracking storms that could hamper operations.
DMSP 19, launched in April 2014, was the newest satellite in the six-unit constellation. After DMSP 19 lost the ability to respond to commands, DMSP 17 took its place as one of two primary satellites, along with DMSP 18.
"At this time, there is no impact to the Department of Defense core weather sensing mission, and the DMSP constellation remains able to support mission requirements through resilient systems and processes," the Air Force stated.
The Flight 19 satellite will remain in space and will be able to gather data for as long as it remains pointed toward the Earth's surface. Eventually, however, the accuracy of that data will degrade as it begins to point away from the Earth. At that point, the Air Force will continue tracking the satellite for situational awareness and collision avoidance purposes, the service said.
Still unknown is whether the Air Force will opt to launch its completed DSMP Flight 20 satellite — which is currently being stored at manufacturer Lockheed Martin's Sunnyvale, Calif.-facility — as a replacement capability. Congress in 2015 cancelled the DSMP program and eradicated all funding meant for the Flight 20 launch.
Program termination and closeout activities continue, an Air Force spokeswoman said via email, but the satellite remains in a "safe configuration" for the time being while the service deliberates whether to seek the funding necessary to launch it.
"The Air Force recognizes we will need to work with Congress to obtain the necessary legislative authorization and appropriations should the department decide to pursue the launch of DMSP-20 to meet SBEM [space-based environmental monitoring] requirements," she said.
Twitter: @Valerie Insinna