On Friday, NASA successfully launched its Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M (TDRS-M) aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. This satellite was the third and final in a series of longtime tracking and Communication Satellites launched by the American space agency.

History of TDRS satellites

NASA has been launching TDRS satellites since 1983, and in the past 34 years, NASA has launched 13 TDRS satellites. TDRS-M is the third satellite in the latest generation of TDRS satellites. Its predecessors, TDRS-K and TDRS-L, were launched in January 2013 and January 2014, respectively. The contract for the making of these satellites was won by Boeing in 2007.

This contract included the making of two satellites and options for two more satellites. After launching the first two satellites, NASA placed the order for one more satellite. The fourth, if created, would be named TDRS-N.

On Friday, the lift-off took place from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite was separated from rocket Centaur's upper stage in a geostationary transfer orbit about 120 minutes after lift-off. In a statement, NASA confirmed that the launch was successful, and the satellite has now been in contact with ground controllers.

The launch of TDRS-M was earlier delayed for about two weeks after a crane hit an S-band antenna of the satellite during payload processing. The damaged antenna was later replaced by Boeing, and the company also took preventative measures to avoid any such accident in the future.

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During a pre-launch news conference on August 17, a Boeing manager confirmed that the antenna suffered “minor damage.”

TDRS-M will undergo testing and calibration

According to NASA, the Boeing-made TDRS-M will undergo several months of testing and calibration before it becomes eligible to be a part of NASA's Space Network. The satellite is expected to be put into service early next year. It will then be renamed TDRS-13, and will start providing high-data-rate communications to the Hubble Space Telescope, International Space Station (ISS), and several other spacecraft.

According to Badri Younes, the deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation at NASA, the success of this mission has been the result of the hard work of all NASA scientists associated with this project. An interesting fact about TDRS satellites is that NASA needs seven such active satellites at any given time. Of these satellites, six provide real-time support while the seventh is used as a reserve satellite. NASA says its next-generation tracking network will rely on advanced laser technology that was already demonstrated during the LADEE moon-orbiting mission. The first of these high-tech satellites is expected to be launched by NASA in 2024.