NASA’s newest satellite, the TDRS-L, joins a network used for vital missions like communication with the International Space Station, the study of Earth’s changing climate, and peering into deep space with the Hubble Telescope. It’s like a cell tower in space providing long distance connections, pictures, data and video from 22,000 miles above the equator.
The TDRS-L is the 12th Tracking and Data Relay Satellite to be launched forming a network that relays signals to and from Earth, the International Space Station and other spacecraft. This is made possible by placing the TDRS satellites in a geosynchronous orbit, where it’s always in contact with one of the ground stations on Earth.
The satellite includes a patented spring-back antenna design first used on TDRS-H. The 15-foot diameter antennae are designed with flexible membrane reflectors that fold up for launch, then spring back into their original cupped circular shape on orbit. The steerable antennas can simultaneously transmit and receive data supporting dual independent two-way communication.
The TDRS-L satellite had been undergoing on-orbit tests since its launch in January from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Boeing recently gave the ‘handshake’ to officially transfer TDRS-L to NASA to join its network.
Another TDRS satellite is currently in production at the Boeing Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif. continuing a more than four decades-long tradition providing space communications.