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NASA Retires Pioneering Tracking and Data Relay Satellite

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Thu Oct 15, 2009 8:01 am via: source
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GREENBELT, Md., (NASA) — After a rocky start and then a stellar 26-year performance, NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite – 1 (TDRS-1) is scheduled for decommissioning on October 28.

Communications equipment that links TDRS-1 to the ground has failed and without this capability it can no longer relay science data and spacecraft telemetry to ground stations located at the White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, N.M., and on Guam.

“Our immediate plans are to develop a strategy to shut down critical payload systems aboard the satellite,” said Space Network Project Manager Roger Flaherty at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Then the team will execute maneuvers to raise TDRS-1’s orbit, thus eliminating potential collision dangers with other communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit.”

TDRS-1 had many firsts.Its position over the Indian Ocean successfully eliminated the “Zone of Exclusion” in an area where communications with spacecraft were previously impossible, thus providing true global coverage for all TDRS System customers.

In 1998, TDRS-1 garnished world-wide publicity when it provided the first medical teleconferencing link, complete with voice, video and imaging data from the South Pole. It was used again in July 2002 to provide continuous, dropout-free data during a two-hour telemedicine event involving a physician at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and physicians at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“Amazing results from a satellite that almost didn’t make it to orbit,” said Flaherty.

TDRS-1’s upper stage failed upon deployment from the space shuttle in April 1983. Engineers at Goddard came to its rescue using the tiny, one-pound thrusters onboard the spacecraft. Over the course of several months they fired the thrusters to nudge TDRS-1 into its geosynchronous Earth orbit. NASA has used the satellite in ways never expected because its orbit has been inclining almost one degree per year since deployment.

Goddard’s Space Network Project provides overall management and direction of the operation and maintenance of the TDRS system, which consists of the on-orbit TDRS, the ground terminal on Guam and the ground complex at White Sands, N.M.

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