Atlas V Launches NASA’s TDRS-K Satellite

Launch of TDRS-KCredit : NASA

Launch of TDRS-K
Credit : NASA

Powered by its Russian built RD-180 main engine, a United Launch Alliance  Atlas V 401 launched NASA’s TDRS-K communications satellite into orbit Wednesday evening, in a picture perfect liftoff from Cape Canaveral.  The 401, which is the simplest version of the booster, departed right on time at 8:48 PM EST, ultimately placing the Boeing built satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. After 10 days of circularizing the orbit, NASA will spend the next three months testing the satellite’s functions before determining its final orbital position.

Once active, TDRS-K, the first of three new, 3rd generation TDRS satellites will join the TDRS System in providing nearly constant ground to space communication services for other governmental and NASA spacecraft, including both the International Space Station and visiting vehicles as they approach the orbiting laboratory.   TDRS satellites have proved remarkably long-lived. The oldest bird currently  in use, TDRS-3, was launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 1988 and is currently located off the Northeast coast of Brazil.

Given the increasing lifespans, one might wonder at the type of service, and what changes,  TDRS-K might oversee from its birds-eye view in the coming decades.  Checkout and departure links for the first US spacecraft preparing to leave LEO on the way to an asteroid as the current Administration proposes, or a return to the Moon as under the previous plan?   Is it too much to hope that sometime before this satellite too is retired, it will relay video and data from the first crewed spacecraft departing on the mission which compels us the most, to Mars?

Even if your faith in the current NASA exploration plan (is there one?) is waning for the moment, there is always this: As part of NASA’s overall Space Network, TDRS communications are also available for commercial use, which means any one of a number of proposed private missions might also make use of its capabilities.

According to the NASA’s reimbursable rate chart for 2012, the Single Access charge is $127 per minute.  A little steep compared to Verizon wireless, but for anyone heading out to the Red Planet, is good for at least the first 60 seconds.

Posted in: NASA

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