The stars aligned to present United Launch Alliance with perfect weather conditions to launch NASA’s next Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-L) last Thursday, Jan. 23—the 12th in the space agency’s fleet of TDRS spacecraft. After a minor delay due to a telemetry issue associated with its primary payload, ULA’s Atlas-V rocket lit up Florida’s Space Coast for miles around, thundering out of Space Launch Complex-41 and putting on a fantastic fireworks show under a crystal clear, star-filled sky.
Delivery of TDRS-L into orbit marks the first launch of the year for ULA, who has another busy space launch manifest scheduled for 2014. The company has 14 more launches planned this year, including launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on an orbital and re-entry demonstration flight atop their monstrous Delta-IV Heavy rocket next September. Classified missions for the NRO and U.S. Air Force, GPS satellites, and Earth-imaging satellites are also expected to hitch a ride to space on the company’s family of dependable Atlas and Delta rockets.
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BELOW: AmericaSpace photographers Alan Walters, John Studwell, and Mike Killian spread out across Kennedy Space Center to capture various angles of the launch from neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station SLC-41.