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NASA Satellite Boosts Space Network

Next-generation spacecraft's electronics and solar panel bring much-needed capabilities to the network that links Earth-orbiting missions to ground terminals.

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NASA has launched the first of three next-generation satellites that are intended to update the agency's decades-old Space Network.

The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS-K, blasted off Jan. 30 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The satellite is one piece in a broader plan to modernize the Space Network, which is a geosynchronous relay system that performs tracking and data transfer for NASA missions.

The Space Network's ground terminals date to the 1980s, and its communications protocols are becoming obsolete. Under a project called Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SNGSS), NASA is creating a more scalable ground terminal architecture.

TDRS-K is the eleventh satellite in NASA's TDRS program. The satellites provide tracking services and data streaming between Earth-orbiting missions, including the International Space Station, Hubble Telescope and climate research spacecraft, and the ground stations.

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TDRS-K, which will be renamed TDRS-11 when it reaches orbit at 22,300 miles, features redesigned telecom payload electronics and a high-performance solar panel to provide more power to the spacecraft.

Building high-speed communications in space is a big focus for NASA. In September 2011, it began working on a laser-based optical communications system to reduce the time it takes to transmit multimedia from space. And last October, NASA and the European Space Agency operated a small robot in Germany from the International Space Station, using a networking protocol designed for deep space communications.

TDRS-K will be put through a three-month test before it goes into service. The satellite is designed to operate for 15 years. NASA also revealed plans for two subsequent satellites: TDRS-L will launch in 2014, to be followed by TDRS-M. NASA's goal is to always have one TDRS in orbit as a spare, according to an agency spokesman.

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User Rank: Apprentice
2/1/2013 | 9:14:09 PM
re: NASA Satellite Boosts Space Network
NASA has made some great strides in successfully completing extremely complex systems since partnering with Siemens PLM Software. The role of Siemens PLM Software in the Mars Curiosity project got a lot of positive press from NASA management. This relationship is paying huge dividends in mission success parameters and tax dollars saved.
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