The Western Aeronautical Test Range communications and flight termination system group recently acquired and installed a replacement for the Comm 3 satellite dish. From left are Jon Batchelor, Kevin Bryant, Justin Thomas, Jovany Bautista and Mike Yettaw. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)
› View Larger Image When the Comm 3 satellite dish on the Western Aeronautical Test Range was wearing down, crews literally sewed up the problem. But the wind was consistently tearing the dish and it was becoming harder to fix. It had to be replaced.
During two days in March the Comm 3 dish was replaced with a larger dish that greatly expands the facility's clarity and range of communications, said Mike Yettaw, group lead of the WATR communications and flight termination system group.
The new dish will provide clearer communication with the shuttle orbiters when they are overhead and the International Space Station.
"If we can see them, we can talk to them," Yettaw said.
The new dish's solid-fiberglass construction is more durable and "has more surface to gather in the signal," he said. The old dish was 4.57 meters in diameter, or about 15 feet, and the new disk 6 meters, or about 20 feet. Aside from some fine-tuning, the new dish is about ready for use.
"We want everything to be perfectly aligned before we put it into service," he added.
The new capability increases the communication range to the Arizona and California border for aircraft and provides more than twice the clarity and quality of the signal that could be received and sent by the previous dish, he said.
The Comm 3 satellite dish is installed. Photo courtesy Sky Yarbrough)
› View Larger Image The group is responsible for ground-to-ground, NASA center-to-NASA center and ground-to-air communication during a mission. For example, the F/A-18 Integrated Resilient Aircraft Control project simultaneously used all the dishes and long-range communication capabilities of the group, but space shuttles and the International Space Station have more specialized needs, Yettaw explained.
Dryden has one of just two ground stations capable of sending and receiving communications on all of the available ISS frequencies, Yettaw said. The other station is at Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility. Goddard is located in Greenbelt, Md., and Wallops is located near Virginia's eastern shore.
As a result of partnerships with the Air Force, Yettaw said Dryden intends to upgrade some of its equipment for an expanded role in its responsibility for flight termination systems and radar for the Air Force and Dryden. A new system that is scheduled for installation next fall will permit simultaneous support of the Air Force and Dryden.
For needs now and in the future, the communications and flight termination system group is honing its equipment and skills to be ready to answer when the call comes for its help.