NASA's newest Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, known as TDRS-K, arrived on 18 December 2012 at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for a Jan. 29 2013 launch. TDRS-K arrived aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 from the Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems assembly facility in El Segundo, Calif.
For almost 30 years, the TDRS spacecraft have provided a reliable communications network for NASA, serving numerous national and international space missions. The TDRS fleet is a space-based communication system used to provide tracking, telemetry, command, and high bandwidth data return services. The satellites provide in-flight communications with spacecraft operating in low-Earth orbit. It has been 10 years since NASA's last TDRS launch.
"This launch will provide even greater capabilities to a network that has become key to enabling many of NASA's scientific discoveries," says Jeffrey Gramling, project manager for TDRS at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
TDRS-K will launch to geostationary orbit aboard an Atlas V rocket. The spacecraft is the first of three next-generation satellites designed to ensure vital operational continuity for NASA by expanding the lifespan of the fleet. The launch of TDRS-L is scheduled for 2014 and TDRS-M in 2015.