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TDRS-1 Satellite Reaches 25 Years Of Age

A communication signal relay system, TDRS transmits voice, television, and digital and analog data between users' satellites and control centers on Earth. The system is capable of transmitting and receiving data from customer satellites over their entire orbit, greatly enhancing the productivity of space assets.
by Staff Writers
Redondo Beach CA (SPX) Apr 08, 2008
The first of six Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system spacecraft built by Northrop Grumman completed 25 years of successful on-orbit operations on April 4, setting a new standard for long life and reliability. Enhancing earth-to-space communications for a quarter of a century, the TDRS-1 satellite tracks and communicates with low-Earth-orbiting satellites.

Altogether, TDRS-1 provided more communication coverage to the Shuttle mission it serviced in 1983 than the entire network of NASA tracking stations had provided in all previous Shuttle missions.

"TDRS is an outstanding example of the excellent, long-standing partnership between Northrop Grumman and NASA, which has moved science and technology forward to support the nation," said Alexis Livanos, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman's Space Technology sector. "The longevity and reliability of TDRS has provided high performance and exceptional value to NASA and other users."

A communication signal relay system, TDRS transmits voice, television, and digital and analog data between users' satellites and control centers on Earth. The system is capable of transmitting and receiving data from customer satellites over their entire orbit, greatly enhancing the productivity of space assets. In total, the six Northrop Grumman-built TDRS spacecraft have logged more than 40,000 mission days on orbit, delivering more than 800,000 hours of service.

The TDRS-1 satellite has triumphed over a number of challenges that confronted the determined spacecraft immediately after it was launched from the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-6) in April 1983. It was nearly lost because of the failure of the boost motor to insert the satellite into the proper orbit.

NASA Goddard and Northrop Grumman engineers devised a novel solution -- against all odds -- that used tiny one-pound thrusters onboard the spacecraft to nudge it over a period of months into the proper geosynchronous orbit.

Because of the increasingly high inclination of its adjusted orbit, TDRS-1 was used in ways never expected. This unforeseen circumstance allowed TDRS-1 to be the first satellite to connect to the Internet, to provide a link for the first live webcast from the North Pole, and to provide a link for the first wireless phone call from the North to the South Pole.

TDRS-1 has also provided scientists at the Amundsen-Scott Base at the South Pole a year-round ability to return high volumes of science data. TDRS-1 was used during a medical emergency, allowing doctors in the U.S. to guide a welder through surgery on a woman diagnosed with breast cancer.

TDRS-1 is part of a constellation of six geosynchronous satellites built by Northrop Grumman's Space Technology sector. Expected to collectively provide service for somewhere between 42 to 60 years, the constellation is approaching 104 years of operation without a single satellite being retired from service, based on the 10-year planned life of each satellite.

The six TDRSS satellites number among the 26 successful geosynchronous spacecraft built by the company in the last 25 years, all of which are still operating.

In 2004, Northrop Grumman and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center received the prestigious National Space Club's Nelson P. Jackson Aerospace Award for the TDRSS program. The award is presented annually to recognize exceptional teamwork between government and industry in the missile, aircraft and space fields. The 2004 award marked the seventh time Northrop Grumman Space Technology has won and/or shared the Jackson Aerospace Award.

Northrop Grumman designed, fabricated, tested and launched the original TDRSS spacecraft; performed ground and spacecraft systems integration; and provided the original ground terminal software. Goddard Space Flight Center's Mission Services Program Office is responsible for planning, development and implementation of NASA's worldwide near-Earth space communications networks, including the management of the operations and development of the TDRSS and the rest of the Space Network. The ground station complex is located in White Sands, N.M.

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