Experiment Gone Right

Tactical Satellite 3—an 880-pound experimental reconnaissance spacecraft that proved so successful, it was used operationally—has concluded its operational service life and is nearing its end, according to Air Force space officials. “This satellite did some amazing things during its relatively short life,” said Lt. Col. Mike Manor, commander of the 1st Space Operations Squadron at Schriever AFB, Colo. Built as an Air Force Research Lab experiment, the Air Force launched TacSat-3 into orbit in May 2009 with an intended life of one year. However, after its on-orbit experiments were complete, Air Force Space Command pressed the satellite into service in June 2010 to support real-world combat and humanitarian operations worldwide. “We were able to squeeze two additional years of mission operations out of it,” explained Manor. TacSat-3 provided multi-spectral imaging of earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged Japan, including the badly damaged Fukushima nuclear facility in 2011, in addition to combat support. Controllers at Schriever recently handed the satellite to airmen at the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., to guide it through its fall from orbit and atmospheric burn-up. (Schriever report by Scott Prater)