Marking the end of an era, NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M (TDRS-M) thundered into space this morning onboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-401 rocket. Following a 26-minute delay to troubleshoot out of limit temperatures on the Centaur upper stage, TDRS-M lifted off at 8:29 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The TDRS-M is the third and final mission in the series of these third-generation space communication satellites to orbit, as part of the follow-on fleet being developed to replenish NASA’s space Network.
Ground controllers report the satellite is in good health at the start of a four-month checkout in space by its manufacturer, Boeing. NASA will conduct additional tests before putting TDRS-M into service early next year. When ready, TDRS-M will become part of NASA’s Space Network providing navigation and high-data-rate communications to the International Space Station, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, rockets and a host of other spacecraft.
“ULA uses the TDRS system as a primary means of receiving and distributing launch vehicle telemetry data during every flight. In fact, the TDRS-K and TDRS-L spacecraft, launched by ULA in 2013 and 2014 tracked today’s launch” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Government Satellite Launch. “We are absolutely honored to have delivered this core NASA capability and critical national resource for our country.”
“The TDRS fleet is a critical connection delivering science and human spaceflight data to those who can use it here on Earth,” said Dave Littmann, the TDRS project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “TDRS-M will expand the capabilities and extend the lifespan of the Space Network, allowing us to continue receiving and transmitting mission data well into the next decade.”
This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter extended payload fairing. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine.
Established in 1973, the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) is a space-based communication system used to provide tracking, telemetry, command and high-bandwidth data return services. Microwave communications equipment and gimbaled antennae are the primary payload of each TDRS. The system is capable of providing near continuous high-bandwidth telecommunications services for Low Earth orbiting spacecraft and expendable launch vehicles including the International Space Station.
The TDRS fleet began operating during the space shuttle era with the launch of TDRS-1 in 1983. Of the TDRS spacecraft launched to date, only two have been retired and five of the nine operational satellites have exceeded their design life and continue to provide essential communications and navigation services.
The TDRS-M spacecraft is effectively identicalto the TDRS-K and -L spacecraft launched in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Boeing conducted spacecraft integration and testing earlier this year at its satellite factory in El Segundo, California. After testing and confirming the spacecraft was ready for shipment, launch processing began following TDRS-M’s arrival in Florida June 23.
For more information about TDRS, visit: http://tdrs.gsfc.nasa.gov
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