Jan. 24 - NASA launches the latest Tracking and Data Relay Satellite atop an Atlas 5 rocket at Cape Canaveral. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
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An unmanned rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday (January 23) to put the newest member of NASA's space communications network into orbit.
The 19-story tall Atlas 5 rocket, built and launched by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, lifted off at 9:33 p.m. EST (0233 GMT Friday).
With the 3.8-ton (3,447-kg) Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) perched on its nose, the rocket blazed through clear, star-filled skies as it headed southeast over the Atlantic Ocean toward orbit.
The satellite is the 12th built for a NASA constellation that circles more than 22,300 miles (35,888 km) above Earth.
The satellites are strategically positioned over the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans where they can continuously track and communicate with the space station and dozens of other fast-moving spacecraft some 22,000 miles (35,406 km) below.
Eight members of the network currently remain in orbit. Two have been decommissioned and were incinerated as they fell back into Earth's atmosphere. A third satellite was destroyed in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger accident.
NASA ordered a 13th and final TDRS satellite to ensure the network can operate through 2030.
By then, NASA expects to transition to laser communications and other upgrades that will significantly boost capability and cut costs.
Besides supporting the space station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations, the TDRS satellites are used by NASA's fleet of Earth-observing satellites and telescopes, such as the Hubble observatory.
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