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Critical communications satellite for NASA arrives at launch site

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A new tracking and date relay satellite for NASA arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft, the space agency announced Monday. The satellite, Tracking & Data Relay Satellite-L (TDRS-L), will be placed atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and launched into Earth orbit on Jan. 23.

For more than 30 years, a fleet of TDRS satellites has provided critical communication support to NASA's human spaceflight endeavors that began during the space shuttle era and continues with support of the International Space Station. It also provides communications support to an array of science missions, as well as several launch vehicles and spy satellites.

TDRS-L, built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems in El Segundo, Calif., is the second of three replenishment satellites for the TDRS constellation, which currently consists of eight spacecraft. TDRS-K was launched in January. “The last of the three, TDRS-M, is on track to be ready for launch as early as 2015,” NASA said in a press release Monday. “Of the 11 TDRS satellites launched, eight still are operational. Four of those already are beyond their design life. Two have been retired. One was lost in a space shuttle accident.

“NASA's Space Communications and Navigation Program, a part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, is responsible for the TDRS network. Launch management of the Atlas V launch service for TDRS-L is the responsibility of the mission directorate's Launch Services Program at Kennedy.”

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