The second of the third generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) was successfully launched at 9:33pm on January 23 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on top of United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The first of the third generation, TDRS-K, was launched on January 30, 2013 and was accepted into the TDRS fleet in mid-August. TDRS-M will be ready for launch in the 2015 timeframe.
The third generation TDRS will replenish the TDRS fleet that has been providing vital communication and tracking services to human spaceflight, science missions, and launch vehicles for over 30 years. TDRS-L will join 8 other TDRS in space: 4 first generation, 3 second generation, and 1 third generation. Two satellites were retired after they both surpassed their design life and one satellite was destroyed with the Challenger accident. Once TDRS-L unfurls itself and reaches geosynchronous orbit above the Pacific Ocean, it will undergo months of testing before it is ready for customer use.
The third generation design has returned to S-band beamforming capabilities to the ground, like its first generation counterparts. Ground beamforming allows more flexibility to send signal to multiple users. The solar arrays on the third generation have also been upgraded to be more efficient.
The TDRS fleet and associated ground stations in White Sands, New Mexico and Guam Island make up the Space Network. The Space Network allows virtually 100% communications between the satellites and ground stations.
› NASA Launches Third Generation Communications Satellite
› Tracking and Data Relay Satellite
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