Tracking and Data Relay Satellite

Tracking and Data Relay Satellite

A Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) is one of a network of communications satellites of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) used by NASA and other United States government agencies for communication to satellites or the International Space Station. The system was designed to replace an existing network of ground stations that had supported all of NASA's manned flight missions. The prime design goal was to increase the time spacecraft were in communication with the ground and improve the amount of data that could be transferred.

The initial seven satellites were built by TRW; later, three versions have been put together by Boeing's Satellite Systems division. 10 satellites have been launched. 9 satellites are still in service. All were managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The contract for TDRS versions L & K was awarded to Boeing on December 20, 2007.


The first TDRS was launched in 1983 on the Space Shuttle Challenger's first flight, STS-6. The Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage that took the satellite from Challenger's orbit to its ultimate geostationary orbit did not deliver to the correct orbit. As a result, the satellite was forced to use its onboard thrusters to get it to the correct orbit. This reduced its operational lifetime, and has since been reduced to part-time duty supporting Antarctic communications.

The second was lost on the Challenger's 10th mission when it was destroyed with the Challenger shortly after liftoff on STS-51-L in 1986. The next five were launched on other shuttles. The three Boeing-built successors were launched on Atlas rockets in 2000 and 2002. A NASA Press Release summarized the capabilities of the system as a whole:

"Working solo, TDRS-1 provided more communication coverage, in support of the September 1983 Shuttle mission, than the entire network of NASA tracking stations had provided in all previous Shuttle missions."


The communications systems on the TDRS satellites were designed to support multiple missions at the same time. Each satellite has S band, Ku band and Ka band systems which support multiple data-rates. The newer Boeing satellites are able to support more communications than the older TRW-built satellites, however, they have had significantly shorter and more problematic lifetimes.

Variants and history

Section source: NASA TRDSS Official Site

  • First Generation TDRS: models A thru G
  • Second Generation TDRS: models H thru J

Launch history

Sub-section source: NSSDC Master Catalog Display: Spacecraft
Name Launch date Mission name NSSDC ID No. Notes
TDRS A April 4, 1983 STS-6 1983-026B also TDRS 1
TDRS B January 28, 1986 STS-51-L TDRSS-B destroyed in the Challenger disaster, also TDRS 2
TDRS C Sept. 29, 1988 STS-26 1988-091B also TDRS 3
TDRS D March 13, 1989 STS-29 1989-021B also TDRS 4
TDRS E August 2, 1991 STS-43 1991-054B also TDRS 5
TDRS F January 13, 1993 STS-54 1993-003B also TDRS 6
TDRS G July 13, 1995 STS-70 1995-003B replacement for the lost TDRS B, also TDRS 7
TDRS H June 30, 2000 Atlas IIa 2000-034A First of the second generation of Boeing TDRS, also TDRS 8
TDRS I March 8, 2002 Atlas IIa 2002-011A also TDRS 9
TDRS J December 4, 2002 Atlas IIa 2002-055A also TDRS 10


Note: all references were accessed Oct. 10, 2007

External links

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