CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A fresh satellite for NASA’s communications network is set for launch from Florida’s Space Coast on Thursday (Jan. 23) to bolster voice and data links between mission control, the International Space Station and a fleet of orbiting researchobservatories.
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Built by Boeing Co., the satellite will be the 12th craft launched in NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite program, which started linking mission control with space shuttles in the 1980s. Now that the space shuttle isretired, the TDRS network’s primary customers are the space station, the Hubble Space Telescope and U.S. government Earth-observation satellites.
NASA developed the tracking system to replace an array of ground stations that provided intermittent communications coverage for a fraction of a space mission. Without TDRS, officials say the space station and NASA’s most prolific satellites in Earth orbit would be left without a way to get data back on the ground at the speeds scientists have become accustomed to in the last few decades.
“No human spaceflight program can be supported at this data rate, and our ability to respond in real time to emergencies would be diminished drastically,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation. “That’s why TDRS has been declared a national asset, not only because of the capabilities up there but our ability to reach any point on Earth at any time.”
Eight TDRS satellites are spread around the globe in strategic positions over the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Two aging craft have been retired, and one TDRS payload was lost aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.
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