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NASA LAUNCHES NEXT-GENERATION COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITE CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The first of NASA's three next-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS), known as TDRS-K, launched at 8:48 p.m. EST Wednesday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. "TDRS-K bolsters our network of satellites that provides essential communications to support space exploration," said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "It will improve the overall health and longevity of our system." The TDRS system provides tracking, telemetry, command and high-bandwidth data return services for numerous science and human exploration missions orbiting Earth. These include the International Space Station and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. "With this launch, NASA has begun the replenishment of our aging space network," said Jeffrey Gramling, TDRS project manager. "This addition to our current fleet of seven will provide even greater capabilities to a network that has become key to enabling many of NASA's scientific discoveries." TDRS-K was lifted into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41. After a three-month test phase, NASA will accept the spacecraft for additional evaluation before putting the satellite into service. The TDRS-K spacecraft includes several modifications from older satellites in the TDRS system, including redesigned telecommunications payload electronics and a high-performance solar panel designed for more spacecraft power to meet growing S-band requirements. Another significant design change, the return to ground-based processing of data, will allow the system to service more customers with evolving communication requirements. The next TDRS spacecraft, TDRS-L, is scheduled for launch in 2014. TDRS-M's manufacturing process will be completed in 2015. NASA's Space Communications and Navigation Program, part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington, is responsible for the space network. The TDRS Project Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the TDRS development program. Launch services were provided by United Launch Alliance. NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center was responsible for acquisition of launch services TDRS Project Overview The TDRS Project is building three space communications satellites that are part of a follow-on spacecraft fleet that will replenish NASA's Space Network. The TDRS Project Office at Goddard Space Flight Center manages the TDRS development effort. TDRS is the responsibility of the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) office within the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. Operations of the network are the responsibility of the Space Network Project at Goddard. In December 2007, NASA signed a contract for Boeing Space Systems to build two third generation TDRS spacecraft for launch in 2013 and 2014. An option for a third TDRS spacecraft was executed in 2011. Within the contract there were required modifications that would enable the White Sands Complex ground system to support the new spacecraft. The January 2013 launch of TDRS-K will begin the replenishment of the fleet through the development and deployment of the next generation spacecraft. These satellites will ensure the Space Network's continuation of around-the-clock, high throughput communications services to NASA's missions; serving the scientific community and human spaceflight program for years to come. TDRS-K is the first of three next-generation satellites designed to ensure vital operational continuity for NASA. Each of the new satellites has a higher performance solar panel design for more spacecraft power to meet the growing S-band communications requirements. The TDRS system provides critical support from several locations in geostationary orbit for an array of science and human exploration missions orbiting Earth. These include the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station. The Payload The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite constellation is a space-based communication system used to provide Tracking, Telemetry, Command, and high bandwidth data return services to its many customers. A major component of the system is the spacecraft itself, the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS). Aboard each spacecraft are multiple antennae that simultaneously relay signals between the ground and multiple satellites. As a result, TDRS provides a wide variety of services to meet customers' needs and demands. The primary payload of each TDRS is the microwave communications equipment, two gimbaled antennae and a phased array antenna. The gimbaled antennae provide forward (to the customer satellite), return (from the customer satellite), and tracking services to one customer at a time. Each TDRS communicates with customers at S-band and Ku-band microwave frequencies at various data rates. Through Ka-Band, the 2nd and 3rd generation satellites are able to provide improved overall service potental with substantially higher bandwidth communications services. The phased array antenna provides low-rate S-band forward, return, and tracking services to multiple customers simultaneously. The TDRS Payload is designed to communicate through both gimbaled antennae and the phased array antenna simultaneously to customer electronic communication hardware operating at different carrier frequencies and various data-rates.