NASA’s TDRS-M satellite makes big entrance in Florida
A massive U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft delivered NASA’s latest Tracking and Data Relay System (TDRS) satellite to the Space Coast Regional Airport on June 23, 2017. The spacecraft is slated to launch atop an Atlas V 401 rocket within a 30-minute window opening at 9:02 a.m. EDT (13:02 GMT) on August 3.
Growing NASA’s in-space communications
TDRS-M is the third spacecraft in this third generation of communication satellites that have served NASA since 1983. The “M” spacecraft is the last of six Boeing has produced for the relay system. The last TDRS satellite launched in 2014, also atop an Atlas V. Each of the third-generation spacecraft is designed to operate for 15 years.
Like the previous two spacecraft of the third generation, TDRS-M will augment the existing constellation, which provides NASA with continuous, high-data-rate communication with the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Station, and science satellites in low-Earth orbit. Three satellites are enough to provide the global coverage the space agency needs; however, when the latest is put into space, it will be one of eight active TDRS satellites in geosynchronous orbit.
The 7,600-pound (3,450-kilogram) satellite can host up to 60 transponders with a power of up to 10 kilowatts. The Boeing 601 satellite body comprises two segments: a primary structure carrying the propulsion system, electronics, and batteries; and a secondary structure that holds the communication payload, its related avionics, and thermal control equipment.
Where TDRS-M goes from here
The handling of TDRS-M reflects the Space Coast’s increasingly busy and diverse space activities, both on and off government property. The spacecraft is now situated at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Titusville, Florida.
There, TDRS-M will undergo final testing, propellant loading, and launch processing before being moved to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 to be prepared for its trip into orbit.
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.
Eight seems like real overkill when only three are really needed. Especially since these satellites are in -very- valuable geo-sync orbits. There are only 1,800 such orbital slots possible, and some slots (over rich people, for example) are more valuable than others. More than 400 slots are already taken. However, I suspect it doesn’t matter at all which slot a TDRS is in, so long as it can “see” another one.