NASA launches newest communication satellite (Update)

Jan 24, 2014 by Marcia Dunn
In a photo provided by NASA a United Launch Alliance Atlas V with TDRS-L atop, arrives at the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla., Air Force Station's Launch Complex 41. The unmanned rocket is set to blast off Thursday night, Jan. 23, 2014, with the latest, third-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. (AP Photo/Daniel Casper )

NASA's super-high-flying fleet of communication satellites just got bigger.

An unmanned rocket blasted into a chilly, clear sky Thursday night carrying the latest, third-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellite.

NASA uses the TDRS satellites to support the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope, among other craft. The network is 22,300 miles (35,886 kilometers) high, at various locations above the equator, and allows continuous two-way contact with the space station and its six inhabitants.

The TDRS system is so vital it's considered a national asset.

A modern-day human space program would be difficult if not impossible without the constant coverage provided by the TDRS satellites, said Badri Younes, NASA's deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation. Ground stations—limited in number—would provide just a fraction of that capability.

Each satellite has a pair of dish antennas 15 feet (4.5 meters) in diameter.

"Not only are we getting global coverage 100 percent of the time, we are getting it in real time," Younes said, snapping his fingers, at a news conference earlier this week.

"Without such support, we'd have to live with coverage around the 10 to 15 percent," he said. "No human spaceflight program can be supported at this data rate. And even our ability to respond real time to emergency would diminish drastically. So that's why the TDRS has been declared as a national asset."

NASA is the primary user; the TDRS system also occasionally assists other countries' space agencies and the U.S. military. In 2002, a TDRS satellite allowed Massachusetts doctors to oversee knee surgery performed at the South Pole.

This newest $350 million satellite—which will work its way up from a temporarily low orbit—is designated "L'' in the TDRS series. NASA will rename it TDRS-12 once it's checked out in orbit, by late spring.

NASA launched its first TDRS in 1983 aboard a space shuttle. The previous satellite, TDRS-11, soared in January 2013.

Officials said they need six active TDRS satellites in orbit at any one time, along with a ready-to-go spare.

The newly launched, Boeing-built satellite will serve as an extra spare. The next in the series—TDRS-M—will be launched sometime in the early 2020s.

Of the 11 previous TDRS satellites, six remain in service, one is in orbital storage, two are retired and one, No. 11, is still undergoing testing. No. 2 was destroyed with the space shuttle Challenger and crew in 1986.

Thursday's liftoff was delayed briefly by a last-minute data dropout with the Atlas V rocket. Launch controllers worked around the problem.

Explore further: NASA launching newest communication satellite

4.7 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA launches communication satellite

Jan 31, 2013

NASA launched a new communication satellite Wednesday to stay in touch with its space station astronauts and relay more Hubble telescope images.

NASA accepts third generation TDRS into network

Aug 19, 2013

NASA has accepted ownership of its newest Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) from Boeing after successfully completing in orbit testing. TDRS-K, will be renamed TDRS-11 upon entry into service.

NASA to upgrade vital communications link

Oct 06, 2012

Technicians and engineers are completing final system checks and spacecraft inspections on the first of NASA's third-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS). Boeing Space Systems will ship TDRS-K ...

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

15 hours ago

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

22 hours ago

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

Spinning up a dust devil on Mars

Dec 19, 2014

Spinning up a dust devil in the thin air of Mars requires a stronger updraft than is needed to create a similar vortex on Earth, according to research at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.