Space Commerce

TacSat-3 Satellite Retired

By Keith Cowing
May 2, 2012
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TacSat-3 Satellite Retired

ATK (ATK) announces the conclusion of the Tactical Satellite-3 (TacSat-3) mission. The Air Force announced on April 30th, 2012, that the satellite deorbited into and burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere nearly three years after its May 2009 launch. TacSat-3 was designed for six months of operation, with a goal of one year.
Not only did it outlive its design life, it also surpassed its original mission requirements and goals as an experimental spacecraft, and was successfully transitioned to operational status in 2010.

The satellite was removed from operational status and transferred to the Space and Missile Systems Center in February 2012. Once transitioned, ATK provided the Air Force Research Laboratory with updated flight software, which allowed the vehicle to conduct on-orbit collection testing.

TacSat-3’s mission demonstrated the capability to conduct hyperspectral imaging to support the needs of U.S. warfighters.

“TacSat-3 served America well. We were proud to be part of the team that provided reconnaissance data from space to warfighters in the field and to intelligence analysts at home,” said Tom Wilson, vice president and general manager, Space Systems Division, ATK Aerospace Group. “Our innovative bus technology was a key factor in successfully extending the TacSat-3 demonstration to a longer-term operational mission. The mission enabled us to apply and enhance our flexible, modular bus platforms for future small satellite missions that included the ORS-1 spacecraft.”

The spacecraft is a pioneer of the emerging Operationally Responsive Space program, which was designed to meet the growing need of U.S. forces for flexible, affordable and responsive satellite systems.

ATK, as the spacecraft bus prime contractor, provided the complete bus system, which included the onboard command and data handling system, electrical power system, spacecraft bus primary structure, and interfaces to the launch vehicle and payload. Built and designed in just 15 months, ATK’s spacecraft bus met the TacSat-3 program goals of being operationally responsive, low-cost and with expected performance. The spacecraft also featured first-generation modular bus technology designed to provide flexibility for future small satellite missions. As a rapid, affordable experimental mission, the specification did not include a propulsion system to sustain long-term low-Earth orbit.

The TacSat-3 program was managed by the Air Force Space Command with collaboration from the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate and the Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

ATK is an aerospace, defense and commercial products company with operations in 22 states, Puerto Rico and internationally. News and information can be found on the Internet at

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