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article imageNASA launch of TDRS-M satellite signals the end of an era

By Karen Graham     Aug 18, 2017 in Science
The end of an era came about this morning when a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket roared off the pad with NASA’s newest communications Tracking and Data Relay Satellite M (TDRS-M).
Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral was 26 minutes into the 40-minute launch window, with liftoff occurring at 08:29 a.m. local time (12:29 UTC), according to NASA.
This was the 13th and final TDRS-M satellite, part of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, or TDRSS introduced in the 1980s to support the space shuttle, the International Space station, and the Hubble Telescope. The satellites are part of a fleet of geosynchronous communications satellites that form part of NASA’s Space Network.
Launch of TDRS-M satellite from Kennedy Space Center on August 18  2017.
Image in the Public Domain...
Launch of TDRS-M satellite from Kennedy Space Center on August 18, 2017. Image in the Public Domain.
NASA
“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, in a news release. “We are absolutely honored to have delivered this core NASA capability and critical national resource for our country."
NASA's Badri Younes, the deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation said "It's like our baby," referring to the satellite. The TDRS-M carries a communications payload that consists of S, Ku, and Ka-band transponders. There is also a pair of steerable antennae, each capable of tracking a single spacecraft and providing communications in all three supported bands. There are additional antennae to track additional spacecraft if needed.
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite M (TDRS-M) is the last of three satellites that comprise the third...
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite M (TDRS-M) is the last of three satellites that comprise the third generation of the TDRSS constellation. Image is in the Public Domain.
NASA
The third-generation TDRS-M is powered by a pair of solar arrays, with an R-4D-11-300 engine providing propulsion for orbit-raising and on-orbit maneuvers. It is expected to provide service for the next fifteen years. NASA's next-generation tracking network will use lasers and use more advanced methods of relaying information.
NASA expects to begin launching the next-generation of satellites starting in 2024 and until then will rely on the current network. "People have invested their soul and their sweat into making it happen" over the decades, Younes said on the eve of the launch. "This spacecraft has served us so well."
More about Satellite, NASA, tracking and communication, Atlas V rocket, Technology