U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet


The Defense Satellite Communications Systems Phase III is an important part of the comprehensive plan to support globally distributed military users.


Air Force Space Command operates nine Phase III DSCS satellites that orbit the earth at an altitude of more than 22,000 miles. Each satellite uses six super high frequency transponder channels capable of providing secure voice and high rate data communications. DSCS III also carries a single-channel transponder for disseminating emergency action and force direction messages to nuclear-capable forces.

The system is used for high priority command and control communication such as the exchange of wartime information between defense officials and battlefield commanders. The military also uses DSCS to transmit space operations and early warning data to various systems and users.


Since the first launch in 1982, DSCS has been the “workhorse” of military satellite communications. The system is built with single and multiple-beam antennas that provide more flexible coverage than its predecessor. The single steerable dish antenna provides an increased power spot beam which can be tailored to suit the needs of different size user terminals. DSCS III satellites can resist jamming and consistently exceed their 10-year design life.

DSCS users operate on the ground, at sea or in the air. Members of the 50th Space Wing’s 3rd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., provide satellite bus command and control for all DSCS satellites.

Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., developed the DSCS III satellites and ground segment. The Electronics Systems Center at Hanscom AFB, Mass., developed the Air Force portion of the terminal segment.

General Characteristics

Primary Function: Worldwide, long-haul communications
Primary Contractor: Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space
Weight: 2,716 pounds (1,232 kilograms)
Power Plant: Solar arrays generating average of 1,500 watts
Orbit Altitude: 22,230 miles (35,887 kilometers)
Dimensions: Rectangular body is 6 feet long (1.8 meters), 6 feet high (1.8 meters), and 7 feet wide (2.1 meters); 38-foot span (11.5 meters) with solar arrays deployed
Launch Vehicle: Atlas II and Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle
Unit Cost: $200 million
Inventory: 9

Point of Contact

Air Force Space Command, Public Affairs Office; 150 Vandenberg St., Suite 1105; Peterson AFB, CO 80914-4500; DSN 692-3731 or (719) 554-3731.

October 2006, from the US Air Force