Applications Technology Satellite 3 (ATS 3).png
ATS-3 prelaunch
Mission typeWeather
COSPAR ID1967-111A
SATCAT no.3029
Mission duration3 years planned
Spacecraft properties
Launch mass365.0 kilograms (804.7 lb)
Start of mission
Launch dateNovember 5, 1967, 23:37:00 (1967-11-05UTC23:37Z) UTC[1]
RocketAtlas SLV-3 Agena-D
Launch siteCape Canaveral LC-12
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
Semi-major axis42,241.0 kilometres (26,247.3 mi)
Perigee altitude35,723 kilometers (22,197 mi)
Apogee altitude35,862 kilometers (22,284 mi)
Inclination6.92 degrees
Period23.93 hours
EpochJanuary 21, 2014, 11:54:19 UTC[2]
NASA's first color photo (digital image mosaic) of Earth, imaged in 1967 by ATS-3, was used as the cover of Whole Earth Catalog's first edition.

Applications Technology Satellite 3, or ATS-3, was a long-lived American experimental geostationary weather and communications satellite, operated by NASA from 1967 to 2001.[3] It was at one time reputed to be the oldest satellite still in operation.[4] As of 1995, NASA referred to the ATS-3 as "The oldest active communications satellite by a wide margin."[5]

On November 10, 1967, ATS-3 took NASA's first color photo (digital image mosaic) of the full-disk Earth, which was subsequently used on the cover of the first Whole Earth Catalog.


Launched in November 1967, the ATS-3 was in service for 11 years before finally being decommissioned in 1978 along with ATS-1.[6] Among its widest-known achievements are the first full-disk, color Earth images transmitted from a satellite. Its imaging capability has served during disaster situations, from the Mexico earthquake to the Mount St. Helens eruption.[5]

ATS-3 experiments included VHF and C-band communications, a color spin-scan camera[7] (principally developed by Verner E. Suomi), an image dissector camera, a mechanically despun antenna, resistojet thrusters, hydrazine propulsion, optical surface experiments, and the measurement of the electron content of the ionosphere and magnetosphere.

Because of failures in the hydrogen peroxide systems on ATS-1, ATS-3 was equipped with a hydrazine propulsion system. Its success led to its incorporation on ATS-4 and ATS-5 as the sole propulsion system.[5]

Operational details

The satellite is in geo-synchronous orbit 34,047 kilometers (21,156 mi) above the Earth's surface. The satellite has served as a communications link for rescue operations, including the 1985 Mexico City earthquake and the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.[8]

Circa 1970, ATS-3 was used to collect images of weather patterns, especially developing hurricanes in the Western Hemisphere. 1,200 line photos were downlinked, approximately every 25 minutes, during daylight hours to NOAA's Command and Data Acquisition Station at Wallops Station, Virginia and transferred to various users. The satellite was known for its spinning beam antennas locking up and rotating with the satellite. When that happened, it took a powerful ground-based transmitter, like the one at Mojave, to blast through digital instructions to get the antenna aimed back at earth again.[citation needed]

ATS-3 Ground Station Antenna

See also


  1. ^ McDowell, Jonathan. "Launch Log". Jonathan's Space Page. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  2. ^ "ATS 3 Satellite details 1967-111A NORAD 3029". N2YO. January 21, 2014. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  3. ^ "ATS | Science Mission Directorate". Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  4. ^ "Technology". Archived from the original on September 28, 2006. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Glover, Daniel R. (1997). "Chapter 6: NASA Experimental Communications Satellites, 1958–1995, SP-4217 Beyond the Ionosphere". In Butrica, Andrew J. (ed.). Beyond The Ionosphere: The Development of Satellite Communications. NASA.
  6. ^ "Applications Technology Satellite Program".
  7. ^ "NASA – NSSDC – Experiment – Details – Multicolor Spin-Scan Cloudcover Camera (MSSCC)". NASA. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  8. ^ Pae, Peter, "Satellites' Longevity Limits Sales", Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2008, p. C1.

External links

  • Information and tracking
  • ATS-3 16 Year In Orbit Evaluation