NASA launched a new satellite yesterday, with the intention of upgrading its communications network between ground control and spacecraft. The agency launched its Tracking and Data Relay Satellite K (TDRS-K) at 8:48pm EST yesterday, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is set to be mounted on a United Launch Allience Atlas 5 rocket.
The estimated cost of the TDRS-K satellite is somewhere between $350 million and $400 million, though that doesn’t take into account the cost of the rocket being used to launch it. The satellite is the first of three new spacecrafts due for deployment between now and 2015, all with the intention of improving the satellite communication network.
A combination of intelligently-placed ground elements and existing TDRS satellite networks make for a constant line of communication between NASA scientists and orbiting spacecrafts. Examples of those that ground stations would communicate with through this network are the International Space Station and the Hubble Telescope.
The TDRS-K satellite is estimated to last for at least 15 years, while in orbit, and is the eleventh such spacecraft to have been launched since the network’s inception in 1983. Five satellites are currently in active service, but there is talk of one of those five being retired once TDRS-K makes orbit, according to NASA scientist, Badri Younes.
The satellite itself will be boosted into an orbit of just over 22,000 miles by its accompanying Atlas 5 rocket, where it will eventually join the relay network. As soon as the satellite separates from the second-stage centaur rocket engine, its antennae will deploy into a bowl shape. It will take 10 days of manoeuvring into proper orbit before the satellite’s solar arrays will finally deploy and its antennae lock into place.
Following this initial deployment stage, three months of testing by NASA will occur, during which time they will decide whether the craft is suitable for service. If it turns out not to be, it will be moved to backup position in orbit.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman