Nasa is retiring the tracking and data relay satellite – 1 (TDRS-1) following 26 years in space.

The satellite has tracked low-Earth-orbiting satellites enabling Nasa to issue commands and receive telemetry through most of its orbit, despite an upstage failure suffered after its launch in 1983.

TDRS-1 also provided more communication coverage for the September 1983 shuttle mission than the entire network of Nasa tracking stations had provided for all previous shuttle missions.

Communication equipment that links TDRS-1 to the ground has stopped working and the satellite can no longer relay science data and spacecraft telemetry to ground stations.

Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center space network project manager Roger Flaherty said that their immediate plans are to develop a strategy to shut down critical payload systems aboard the satellite.

“Then the team will execute manoeuvres to raise TDRS-1’s orbit, thus eliminating potential collision dangers with other communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit,” he said.

TDRS-1 was the first to eliminate the ‘zone of exclusion’ by its positioning over the Indian Ocean, where communication with spacecraft was previously impossible.

The spacecraft was also the first to enable a medical teleconferencing link with voice, video and imaging data from the South Pole.

Goddard’s space network project manages and directs operation and maintenance of the TDRS system, which consists of the on-orbit TDRS, a ground terminal at Guam and a ground complex at White Sands, New Mexico.