WASHINGTON - NASA on Thursday launched a new satellite to boost its growing communications network between Earth and the International Space Station, allowing for nearly uninterrupted video, voice link and data transmission.
The TDRS-L blasted off at 9:33 pm local time from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on its way to become the 11th member of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System.
The fleet of satellites has "revolutionized communications" for NASA "by allowing nearly continuous transmission of information during a mission," the agency said.
The first TDRS satellite was launched in 1983.
Before then, communications to space were spotty and based on a small number of ground stations worldwide, leaving many gaps.
"Astronauts and Earth-orbiting scientific spacecraft would relay messages only when they passed over or near one of the ground stations," said NASA.
Now, the network of TDRS satellites combines to convey near-continuous signals, information and commands from ground controllers to the International Space Station as well the Hubble Space Telescope and a range of scientific satellites.
The satellite blasted off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, destined for an orbit 22,300 miles (35,900 kilometers) above the Earth.