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Sharks prepare final DSP

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 23rd and final Defense Support Program satellite is slated to lift off from Cape Canaveral Aug. 28. The DSP satellites help protect the United States and its allies by detecting missile launches, space launches and nuclear detonations. 

The satellite is being kept in the Cape's Large Processing Facility under the care of the 45th Launch Support Squadron's Spacecraft Flight. 

Before it is enclosed in its protective fairing, the satellite is kept in a controlled atmosphere, said Tech. Sgt. Richard Edginton, a maintenance engineer personnel. The atmosphere contains 100,000 particles of filtered air for every one particle of dirt or dust. Multiple particle counters constantly monitor the atmosphere. 

For those working on the satellite, this means dressing from head to toe in protective clothing that will not produce loose fibers and being prohibited from wearing cologne or makeup. The personnel also use tethered tools and glasses to prevent anything falling on the satellite. 

If the environment was anything less than immaculate, it would adversely affect the satellite's ability to accomplish its mission. "If the main sensor gets contaminated, it will not be as sensitive as it could be," said Maj. David Laird, flight commander. In addition to the main sensor, Major Laird said the satellite's solar panels must be kept as clean as possible. "Dirt can degrade the panels and the life of the satellite," he said. 

The satellite will be taken to the pad in early August, where the Delta IV Heavy vehicle, the first to carry an operational payload, awaits. As that day approaches, Major Laird looks back to the role DSP satellites have played through the years. 

"DSP has been around since 1970," he said. "It's the end of an era." 

DSP's effectiveness was proven during Operation Desert Storm, when DSP detected the launch of Iraqi Scud missiles and provided warning to civilian populations and coalition forces in Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

Sergeant Edginton has processed three DSP satellites during his time at Cape Canaveral, and is very proud of the work that Air Force personnel and contractors alike have done. 

"I haven't met a more professional, mission-success-oriented team," he said, "DSP has been an awesome program to be a part of."