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Broken antenna delays launch of NASA communications satellite

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It was originally scheduled for August 3rd

NASA’s TDRS-M satellite, built by Boeing
Boeing

NASA is postponing the launch of one of its communications satellites after an antenna on the vehicle was somehow damaged during mission preparations over a week ago. That satellite is the TDRS-M, for Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, and it was scheduled to launch on August 3rd from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on top of an Atlas V rocket made by the United Launch Alliance. But now, NASA, ULA, and Boeing — the manufacturer of the satellite — are trying to figure out a new time to launch the probe in August, so the satellite’s antenna can be replaced before then.

The TDRS-M satellite is meant to join a whole fleet of other TDRS satellites already in space that make up part of NASA’s “Space Network.” These probes are crucial for helping the agency communicate with its various spacecraft in lower Earth orbit, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station. NASA used to completely rely on ground-based radio stations to communicate with orbiting vehicles, but that didn’t allow for 24/7 communication. The TDRS satellites help to provide near continuous communication instead: they sit in a super high orbit 22,000 miles up called geosynchronous orbit, and they help relay communications between spacecraft in lower orbits and the ground below.

Once TDRS-M is in orbit, it will be the 10th active TDRS satellite in the Space Network. But for now, it’s unclear when that will happen. NASA did not say how the antenna on TDRS-M was damaged nor how long it will take to replace the instrument. Meanwhile, NASA says it’s investigating a “possible electrostatic discharge event” that may have affected equipment needed to support the spacecraft from the ground. However, the agency did not elaborate on what that meant or when that situation would be resolved.