CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA launched the last of its longtime tracking and communication satellites on Friday, a vital link to astronauts in orbit as well as the Hubble Space Telescope.
The end of the era came with a morning liftoff of TDRS-M, the 13th satellite in the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite network. It rode to orbit aboard an unmanned Atlas V rocket. There were handshakes all around two hours later, when the satellite successfully separated from the rocket’s upper stage.
NASA has been launching TDRS satellites since 1983. The 22,300-mile-high constellation links ground controllers with the International Space Station and other low-orbiting craft including Hubble.
This latest flight from Cape Canaveral was delayed two weeks after a crane hit one of the satellite’s antennas last month. Satellite maker Boeing replaced the damaged antenna and took corrective action to prevent future accidents.
The rocket and satellite cost $540 million.