In the early phases of the space age, NASA and the U.S. Air Force
maintained a large array of ground stations to communicate with their satellites. The ground stations were expensive and did not provide continuous coverage, particularly for the LEO satellites. NASA developed the idea for a global system of communication satellites that culminated with the launch of TDRS-1 on April 4, 1983. Following the loss of TDRS-2 in the Challenger accident in 1986, five more TDRS satellites were launched over the next nine years. The original TRW-built satellites were supplemented (replaced) by Boeing-built satellites, TDRS 8–10. TDRS-11 and -12 were launched in 2013 and 2014, respectively, with only modest changes from the second-generation satellites.
The complete system, known as the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, or TDRSS, consists of the satellites, two ground terminals at the White Sands Complex, a ground terminal extension on the island of Guam, and customer- and data-handling facilities. This constellation of satellites provides global communication and data relay services for the Space Shuttle, International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope, and a multitude of LEO satellites, balloons, and research aircraft.
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