WASHINGTON - The US Air Force on Wednesday said it plans to launch an aging weather satellite at an expected cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent a gap in forecasting capability and provide another competitive launch opportunity for privately held Space Exploration Technologies Inc, or SpaceX.
General John Hyten, who heads Air Force Space Command, and Air Force Secretary Deborah James, said a decision had been made to launch the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Flight 20 satellite, which was built in the 1990s.
James told the strategic forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Air Force had little choice but to launch the satellite after European allies reversed a decision to launch a weather satellite of their own.
"We have a gap. We have to take care of ourselves," James told the subcommittee.
Hyten said it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to store and launch the satellite, but the decision would allow the US military to "plug some gaps" in its forecasting capability.
The Air Force recently added new sensors to DMSP F-20 and DMSP F-19, which was launched last April. The DMSP constellation of satellites has been providing weather data to the Pentagon since the 1960s.