Bad week for China and Israel satellite operators

It has not been the best of week for smaller satellite operators. Two are suffering problems with their satellites. Israel’s Spacecom has discovered that its Amos 5i (a second-hand satellite bought from AsiaSat at the end of last year) doesn’t have the fuel on board that it expected. The AsiaSat craft was designed to last for the best part of two years, but it now seems likely that owners Spacecom will be lucky to tease it much beyond this coming winter. Amos 5, which is targeted to occupy the 17 deg East orbital position, doesn’t get launched until the middle of 2011.

China’s recently launched Sinosat-6 spacecraft has also suffered an in-orbit anomaly that will translate into a probable loss of life of up to five years. The anomaly is believed to be connected to a potential leak in the helium pressurant. The end result is that extra – and unplanned – fuel was used to get the satellite onto its final location after launch.

Sinosat-6 was launched on a Long March rocket on September 9, and is due to replace Sinosat-3 at 125E. The spacecraft is reportedly insured for around $200m.  The satellite was constructed by China Great Wall Industry Corp.

However, the satellite’s problems will be of great concern to both the manufacturer and insurers given that it is the third China Great Wall craft to suffer a malfunction out of the last four. The problems, however, seem to be unconnected. In October 2006 Sinosat 2 failed to deploy its solar arrays and then Nigcomsat-1 suffered a technical error to its solar array in November 2008. Venesat-1, which was launched in October 2008, continues to operate normally, although the problems that affected the other two satellites reportedly pushed up both the launch and in-orbit insurance rates for Venezuala’s debut satellite.

The next Chinese satellites in the pipeline are Paksat-1R and NigComSat-2, both of which are due to be launched later next year.

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