Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shuttle Atlantis Mission Critical to Keeping Tabs on US Satellites

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shuttle Atlantis Mission Critical to Keeping Tabs on US Satellites

Article excerpt

SPACE Shuttle Atlantis is ready to head for orbit to service one of the most important facilities the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration possesses.

It's the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system. Unmanned scientific satellites such as the Hubble space telescope and orbiting astronauts alike depend on this planet-girdling network to return their data and keep virtually constant communication with Earth. In fact, the system is so critical that TDRS network official Philip Liebrecht at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., says, "It's not possible to operate the NASA space network without (it)."

At this writing, the Atlantis countdown at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was proceeding toward a launch July 24 sometime between 10:55 a.m. and 3:12 p.m. Eastern daylight time.

NASA wants to make sure the vital TDRS communications system, which has replaced the old ground-based tracking network, has ample capacity to continue to function reliably. So Atlantis is to carry up a $120 million TDRS unit to add to the present three-satellite network.

Deploying this satellite about six hours after launch is the single most important job mission commander John E. Blaha and his four-man crew have on their mission of roughly nine days. The bulk of their time will be devoted to a variety of tasks and experiments. Among other activities, they plan to make precise measurements of the stratospheric ozone layer. These data will be used to check the accuracy of regular ozone monitoring instruments on several NASA satellites.

To some extent, the development of the TDRS system has paralleled that of the shuttle itself. The old way of tracking earth-orbiting satellites from a network of ground stations was inefficient and becoming too costly by the late 1970s. …

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