Spaceflight Insider

DMSP F-12 breaks up on orbit

The lights of Earth as captured by DMSP spacecraft between 1994 and 1995. Image Credit: GSFC / NASA

Image Credit: GSFC / NASA

A retired United States Air Force weather satellite has broken up on orbit. The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 12 (DMSP F-12) satellite is some 22 years old and was already out of service when its breakup occurred. 

According to a report appearing on Space News, the Joint Space Operations Center located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California announced the discovery earlier this week.

Given that the DMSP F-12 satellite was decommissioned back in 2008, determining what caused it to break up in orbit will be difficult. Possible clues as to what might have caused the incident are available.

In February of 2015, the DMSP F-13 satellite also broke up on orbit. The fact that both satellites shared the same battery assembly is a possible connection between the two events as this was determined to be the cause of the 2015 anomaly.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force lost the ability to direct the DMSP F-19 satellite. It was determined that a power system failure was the cause of this issue (as was noted in a report appearing on DefenseNews). Launched in April of 2014, DMSP F-19 was sent to orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 3E (East).

This latest event could be related to a series of similar issues that appear to revolve around the satellites’ battery assembly, according to the Space News report.

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) has been implemented to provide meteorological and other services to the U.S. Department of Defense. Done through the Air Force Space Command, the system is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

I wonder how many other satellites have similar batteries? Do these batteries deteriorate over time and then explode?

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