CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – 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 fleet to support the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope, among other craft. The network is 22,300 miles 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 fleet, said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation.
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.
The newly launched, Boeing-built satellite will serve as an extra spare.