Washington: NASA on January 31 launched a new unmanned communication satellite to stay in touch with the International Space Station astronauts and relay more Hubble telescope images. The first of NASA's three next-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS), known as TDRS-K, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
"TDRS-K bolsters our network of satellites that provides essential communications to support space exploration," said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation at NASA Headquarters here.
"It will improve the overall health and longevity of our system," Younes said in a NASA statement. The TDRS system provides tracking, telemetry, command and high-bandwidth data return services for numerous science and human exploration missions orbiting Earth. These include the International Space Station and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
The next TDRS spacecraft, TDRS-L, is scheduled for launch in 2014.
"With this launch, NASA has begun the replenishment of our aging space network," said Jeffrey Gramling, TDRS project manager. "This addition to our current fleet of seven will provide even greater capabilities to a network that has become key to enabling many of NASA's scientific discoveries," Gramling said.
TDRS-K was lifted into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41. After a three-month test phase, NASA will accept the spacecraft for additional evaluation before putting the satellite into service.
The TDRS-K spacecraft includes several modifications from older satellites in the TDRS system, including redesigned telecommunications payload electronics and a high-performance solar panel designed for more spacecraft power to meet growing S-band requirements.
Another significant design change, the return to ground-based processing of data, will allow the system to service more customers with evolving communication requirements. The next TDRS spacecraft, TDRS-L, is scheduled for launch in 2014. TDRS-M's manufacturing process will be completed in 2015, the US space agency said.