Venezuela’s Flagship Communications Satellite Out of Service and Tumbling

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    Venezuela’s first and only state-owned communications satellite has been out of service since March 13 when a series of maneuvers left it tumbling in an unusable orbit. SpaceNews reports: The VeneSat-1 satellite, built by China Great Wall Industry Corp. and launched in late 2008 on a 15-year mission to provide television and broadband services to Venezuela, has been stuck for 10 days in an elliptical orbit above the geostationary arc, according to telescopic observations from two U.S. companies that track satellites. VeneSat-1’s operator, the Venezuelan space agency ABAE, had issued no status reports on the satellite as of March 23 and could not be reached for comment March 22 or March 23. In January, ABAE said Venezuela and China planned to develop a replacement satellite, VeneSat-2, that would continue service after VeneSat-1 retired. California-based ExoAnalytic Solutions, which operates a network of satellite- and debris-tracking telescopes, spotted a “significant orbit change” for VeneSat-1 on March 13 at 3:15 a.m. Eastern, when the satellite left its position at 78 degrees West longitude over Venezuela, Bill Therien, ExoAnalytic’s vice president of engineering, told SpaceNews. Approximately three hours later, the satellite conducted another maneuver that sent it tumbling westward, he said. Telescope observations from ExoAnalytic and Pennsylvania-based AGI show VeneSat-1 tumbling in an elliptical orbit that at its lowest point is 50 kilometers above the geosynchronous arc where most large communications satellites reside. Venesat-1’s highest point, or apogee, is roughly 36,300 kilometers — or about 525 kilometers above the geosynchronous arc, according to the companies. Bob Hall, AGI technical director for space situational awareness, said VeneSat-1 has drifted 30 degrees from its original orbital slot since March 13. If the satellite drifts another 40 degrees, it will be beyond line of sight from Venezuela, complicating any efforts to restore control of the spacecraft unless Venezuela relies on ground stations in other countries. VeneSat-1 will likely be maneuvered into a so-called graveyard orbit around 300 to 500 kilometers above the geosynchronous belt, where inactive or dead satellites are expected to orbit for thousands of years without colliding with active satellites. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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