Eutelsat keeps W3B aloft
November 8, 2010
On Oct 29 Eutelsat declared its W3B satellite – launched a day earlier – as a “total loss”. The satellite operator was expected to deliberately de-orbit the satellite into the Pacific Ocean within hours. Now it has emerged that the satellite is to be maintained in orbit.
The satellite is now expected to orbit for the next 20-30 years until it eventually decays and does fall naturally to Earth. The company says they have made the satellite as inert as possible by emptying its helium pressurisation tank as well as discharging what little fuel remained on board the satellite.
Thales Alenia Space is conducting a Board of Inquiry to establish precisely what went wrong with the craft, and the examination is likely to last a month.
The satellite – or what’s left of it – is circling the Earth in a highly elliptical orbit. The problems for the engineers extended beyond the initial launch and because the remaining on-board fuel needed to send the satellite to Earth had started to freeze. W3B is now in a perfectly safe orbit coming as close to 249 kilometres to the Earth’s surface, and as far as 35,900 kilometres at its furthest point.