NASA Launches Next-Gen Tracking Satellite From Florida
January 31, 2013

NASA Launches Next-Gen Tracking Satellite From Florida

[ Watch the Video: TDRS-K Lifts Off Towards Its Orbit ]

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Update (January 31, 2013):

NASA launched the first of its three next-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) at 8:48 p.m. last night (Jan. 30, 2013) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It was lifted into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41.

The satellite, TDRS-K, will add to an existing fleet of satellites that provide “essential communications to support space exploration [and will] improve the overall health and longevity of our system,” Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement.

TDRS-K will provide tracking, telemetry, command and high-bandwidth data return services for science and space programs, including the International Space Station (ISS) and Hubble Space Telescope. Of course, the satellite will undergo a three-month test phase and then an additional evaluation before becoming fully operational.

Jeffrey Gramling, project manager for TDRS, said this launch is seen as the next step for NASA to begin replenishing an “aging space network.” TDRS-K will join the current fleet of satellites and will “provide even greater capabilities to a network that has become key to enabling many of NASA's scientific discoveries.”

The next satellite in the TDRS line, TDRS-L, is scheduled for launch in 2014. TDRS-M´s manufacturing process will be completed in 2015.

Original Story by Lee Rannals (January 30, 2013):

NASA will be adding a new satellite to its Tracking and Data Relay Satellite project, or TDRS, today with the launch of TDRS-K.

This new satellite is scheduled for launch today at 8:48 p.m. eastern time at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41, weather permitting.

An Atlas V rocket carrying the TDRS-K spacecraft rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility onto the launch pad Tuesday. Since then, NASA has been performing prelaunch activities to get both the spacecraft and rocket ready for flight.

TDRS-K is one of three satellites being launched in the next couple of years, aimed at improving the TDRS program. This new edition of satellites, TDRS-K, TDRS-L and TDRS-M, are the third generation of the project. The first generation was established in 1973.

The TDRS system consists of in-orbit TDRS telecommunications spacecraft stationed at geosynchronous positions to provide follow-on and replacement spacecraft necessary to maintain NASA's Space Network.

This network is able to provide near-continuous high bandwidth telecommunication services for low-Earth orbiting user spacecraft, and expendable launch vehicles.

TDRS-K will help to provide tracking data used to determine the orbit, and specific location of user satellites. The latest addition to the TDRS family has a planned mission of 15 years in orbit, and cost approximately $715 million to produce.

Boeing Space Systems was awarded a contract to build the three additional TDRS spacecraft back in December 2007. It not only produced TDRS-K, but will be producing TDRS-L in 2014 and TDRS-M in 2015.

One of the satellites in the project, TDRS-2, was lost during the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, which we remembered earlier on redOrbit this week.

Back in July 2002, TDRS-1 helped to support the first telemedicine procedure from the South Pole. During this procedure, doctors in Massachusetts used TDRS-1 to assist a physician at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in knee surgery.

TDRS-K will be able to communicate in several frequencies, including S-band Multiple Access, S-band Single Access, Ku-band Single Access, and Ka-band Single Access. The Ka-band frequencies will allow for international compatibility with Japanese and European space relay programs. This frequency will also allow users to transmit data at 800 Mbps.

NASA said weather forecasts show that today's launch calls for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions. Multiple videos are available on redOrbit in relation to the TDRS Project, as well as a video simulation of today's launch.

Image Below: At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket set to carry NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-K, moves from the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad. Image credit: NASA/ Kim Shiflett