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A United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle blasted into space Wednesday night on the first launch from Cape Canaveral in 2013. After lifting off on time at 8:48 .m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41, the Atlas successfully delivered to orbit the first NASA’s three next-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS), known as TDRS-K. “TDRS-K bolsters our network of satellites that provides essential communications to support space exploration,” said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It will improve the overall health and longevity of our system.” This was the first of 13 ULA launches scheduled for 2013, the 35th Atlas V mission, and the 67th ULA launch. This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10A-4 engine.

The Atlas V booster is 12.5 ft in diameter and 106.5 ft in length. The booster’s tanks are structurally rigid and constructed of isogrid aluminum barrels, spun-formed aluminum domes, and intertank skirts. The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen, and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level. The Atlas V booster is controlled by the Centaur avionics system, which provides guidance, flight control, and vehicle sequencing functions during the booster and Centaur phases of flight. The Centaur upper stage is 10 ft in diameter and 41.5 ft in length. Its propellant tanks are constructed of pressure-stabilized, corrosion resistant stainless steel. Centaur is a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen fueled vehicle. It uses a single RL10A-4-2 engine producing 22,300 lb of thrust. The cryogenic tanks are insulated with a combination of helium-purged insulation blankets, radiation shields, and spray-on foam insulation (SOFI). The Centaur forward adapter (CFA) provides the structural mountings for the fault-tolerant avionics system and the structural and electrical interfaces with the spacecraft. Demonstrating the rocket’s maturity and reliability, the vehicle used for last night’s mission was processed in the shortest turnaround time in the history of the Atlas V program. “With this team’s innovative and ever-present focus on delivering mission success and best value through Perfect Product Delivery, final work at the Cape to prepare the Atlas V rocket that launched today was completed in record time – 27 days from when the vehicle was first erected to launch,” said Sponnick. “The ability for ULA to reduce its processing time both during manufacturing and at the launch sites, offers our customers added manifest flexibility as well as additional launch opportunities to ensure their payloads are delivered reliably and on-time.” NASA established the TDRS project in 1973 to provide around-the-clock and around-the-Earth communications for the network that routes oice calls, telemetry streams and television signals from the International Space Station, as well as science information from the Hubble Space Telescope and other orbiting spacecraft. The TDRS system provides tracking, telemetry, command and high-bandwidth data return services for numerous science and human exploration missions orbiting Earth. These include the International Space Station and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. TDRSS, also referred to as the NASA Space Network, consists of satellites in geosynchronous stationary orbits and the associated TDRS ground stations located at White Sands, NM and Guam. Aboard each satellite are multiple antennae that send and receive signals to and from the ground to multiple satellites simultaneously. As a result, the TDRSS provides a wide variety of services to meet customers’ needs and demands. Microwave communications equipment and gimbaled antennae are the primary payload of each TDRS. The TDRSS is capable of providing near continuous high bandwidth (S, Ku, and Ka band) telecommunications services for Low Earth orbiting spacecraft and expendable launch vehicles,including the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station. “With this launch, NASA has begun the replenishment of our aging space network,” said Jeffrey Gramling, TDRS project manager. “This addition to our current fleet of seven will provide even greater capabilities to a network that has become key to enabling many of NASA’s scientific discoveries.” TDRS-K was lifted into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41. After a three-month test phase, NASA will accept the spacecraft for additional evaluation before putting the satellite into service. The TDRS-K spacecraft includes several modifications from older satellites in the TDRS system, including redesigned telecommunications payload electronics and a high-performance solar panel designed for more spacecraft power to meet growing S-band requirements. Another significant design change, the return to ground-based processing of data, will allow the system to service more customers with evolving communication requirements. “ULA and our mission partners are honored to work with the outstanding NASA team and we are proud of the vitally important data relay capabilities that were safely delivered today,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. The next TDRS spacecraft, TDRS-L, is scheduled for launch in 2014. TDRS-M’s manufacturing process will be completed in 2015. ULA’s next launch is the Atlas V LDCM mission for NASA scheduled for Feb. 11, 2013 from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
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