A real past and present connection to the moon

This breathtaking picture of the crescent moon above Johnson Space Centerís S-band dish atop Building 44, home to JSCís Electronics Systems Test Laboratory (ESTL), has a real past and present connection to the moon.

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A crescent moon and JSC's S-band dish atop Building 44, shot by Photography Supervisor Mark Sowa.
The dish has been on-site since the 1960s, installed around the 1967 timeframe. Originally, it was used to test the S-band communications systems during the Apollo Program. During lunar missions, the dish tracked Apollo spacecraft almost all the way to the moon, as well as on the return Earth leg. The antenna also provided support during the Space Shuttle Program for both nominal and contingency operations. It was used as a ground station on several shuttle entries, and also received FM television during the shuttle payload bay door opening on Flight Day 1. In addition, the antenna also provided S-band support to several shuttle payloads in the presence of failures. Most notably, it provided command and telemetry support for the Tethered Satellite System (TSS) after the tether break separated the satellite from the orbiter.

Per a recently signed agreement, ESTLís S-band dish will be used to provide command and telemetry in support of FalconSAT-6, a United States Air Force (USAF) research satellite that will be built and operated by cadets at the USAF Academy. In late February, JSC hosted a group of cadets and faculty from USAF Academy so that they could become familiar with the antenna, which they will operate remotely from Colorado Springs during the FalconSAT-6 mission. Read more about that effort here:


The ESTL is an integrated space and data communications test facility that performs high fidelity, end-to-end testing of communications and data processing subsystems. In addition, the ESTL can provide real-time S-band command, telemetry and tracking capabilities, as well as in other frequency bands. The laboratory is currently pursuing partnership opportunities outside of JSC that would utilize these capabilities. For more information, contact Sharon Marston, lab manager, at sharon.s.marston@nasa.gov, or Mark Severance, assistant lab manager, at mark.t.severance@nasa.gov.

Catherine Ragin Williams
Johnson Space Center, Houston


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Updated: 03/20/2013