ULA Atlas V duo preparing for key NASA launches

by Chris Bergin

Two United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rockets are preparing to launch on opposite coastlines of the United States just days apart. On the east coast, an Atlas V is scheduled to launch NASA’s TDRS-K satellite on January 30, while on the west coast another Atlas V is preparing for the February 11 launch of NASA’s LDCM.

Atlas V Tag Team:

At Cape Canaveral’s SLC-41, ULA’s Atlas V (AV-036) overcame a minor issue during its processing flow, causing just a one day slip to its original launch date.

The fault – noted to be a short within the Ordnance Remote Control Assembly (ORCA) – was found during the Integrated System Test (IST), conducted on Tuesday.

Per L2 processing flow information for this launch, a replacement ORCA was shipped from the birth place of the Atlas V in Decatur, arriving the next day, allowing for the IST to be re-performed without issue.

The vehicle’s Booster Main Vehicle Batteries were also removed from the vehicle due to an anomalous indication relating to one battery exceeding a divergence requirement. Two reserve batteries are being prepared for installation on the vehicle on Saturday, with the troublesome battery sent to Denver for Fault Analysis.

The vehicle passed its Flight Readiness Review (FRR) at the end of the week, ahead of a countdown dress rehearsal. Next up will be the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) on Monday, which will cover any action items from the FRR.

Passing the LRR will also will provide the go for the rollout of the Atlas V to the launch pad on Tuesday morning.

Atlas V 401The Atlas V, flying in its 401 configuration, will be tasked with lofting the latest Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System – a space-based communication system used to provide tracking, telemetry, command, and high bandwidth data return services to its many customers – into orbit.

Currently, there are seven operational satellites that provide in-flight communications with spacecraft operating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Aboard each satellite are multiple antennae that send and receive signals both to and from the ground to multiple satellites simultaneously.

TDRS-K will launch to geostationary orbit and is the first of three next-generation satellites designed to ensure vital operational continuity for NASA by expanding the lifespan of the fleet. The launch of TDRS-L is scheduled for 2014 and TDRS-M in 2015.

“This launch will provide even greater capabilities to a network that has become key to enabling many of NASA’s scientific discoveries,” noted Jeffrey Gramling, project manager for TDRS at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

TDRS-K SatelliteThe TDRS fleet began operating during the space shuttle era and provides critical communication support including for the International Space Station (ISS). The fleet also provides communications support to an array of science missions, as well as various types of launch vehicles.

“The TDRS satellites provide NASA with crucial crosslink communications between orbiting spacecraft and control and data processing facilities on Earth,” said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems.

“TDRS K is a major step toward improving how high-resolution images, video, voice and data are transmitted.”

Of the nine TDRS satellites launched, seven are still operational, although four are already beyond their design life. Two have been retired.

The timing of the launch of TDRS K will be just days after the anniversary of the loss of Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 – a disaster that also saw the destruction of the second TDRS.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, another Atlas V is preparing for its own launch, scheduled for just over a week after its sister rocket launches from Cape Canaveral.

LDCM SateliteAgain launching in the 401 configuration, the West Coast Atlas V is scheduled to lift-off on February 11 from SLC-3E at Vandenberg. The passenger is the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) satellite.

LDCM is a joint NASA and US Geological Survey mission, and is the eighth satellite in the Landsat series, which began in 1972.

The satellite will add to the longest continuous data record of Earth’s surface as viewed from space and will extend the history of global land observations that are critical in many areas, such as energy and water management, forest monitoring, human and environmental health, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture.

LDCM“LDCM builds on and strengthens a key American resource: a decades-long, unbroken Landsat-gathered record of our planet’s natural resources, particularly its food, water and forests,” noted Jim Irons, Landsat project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space FlightCenter.

LDCM carries two instruments, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., and theThermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) built by NASA Goddard.

“Both of these instruments have evolutionary advances that make them the most advanced Landsat instruments to date and are designed to improve performance and reliability to improve observations of the global land surface,” added Ken Schwer, LDCM project manager at NASA Goddard.

The spacecraft will be sent on its way to a polar orbit of 438 miles at an inclination of 98.2 degrees.

(Images via ULA and NASA)

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