Who’s Your Space Ghost? Dead Eutelsat W3B Will Haunt Space for 20-30 Years (Unless It Hits Something Sooner)

Posted: November 5, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Space News reports:

The Eutelsat W3B satellite declared a total loss less than 24 hours after its Oct. 28 launch because of a leak in its propulsion system will spend the next 20 to 30 years in its parking orbit following ground teams’ inability to guide it into a controlled atmospheric re-entry.

Is anyone besides me wondering who made the propulsion system for the spacecraft (see AEHF-1)?  Ya know, just wondering.  Something I read yesterday (but due to a computer anomaly, didn’t get posted, and due to inertia won’t be looked for today) postulated the W3B’s propulsion system may have been damaged during encapsulation, where the payload fairing is placed around the satellite.

You can’t dismiss such a thing, but it seems a bit hard to understand how it would happen without any detection during the time from spacecraft mating until launch.  Human beings report things.  There’s video.  There’s instrumentation.

W3B’s builder, Thales Alenia Space, has attempted to safe W3B as best they can by venting the satellite’s pressurization systems and the remaining liquid fuel, as well as running the batteries down.  This is intended to reduce the likelihood that W3B explodes on contact with any orbital debris it may encounter.  Contract will be bad enough as-is, although an explosion would certainly be worse.

The satellite, which weighed 5,370 kilograms at launch, developed a large leak in a line delivering oxidizer to the propellant tank at some point between lifting off aboard an Ariane 5 ECA rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, and when it was released into orbit.

The second payload, a Lockheed manufactured telecommunications satellite, is nominal.

…Nov. 3 the ground controllers concluded that de-orbiting the satellite would not be possible in light of a propulsion situation even more desperate than previously thought. The fuel had begun to freeze, and while the usual partial deployment of the solar arrays provided battery power, the satellite could not be moved.

After performing the propellant purge and other passivation efforts to reduce debris risk, Thales Alenia Space and Eutelsat informed the North American Aerospace Defense Command that W3B should be considered an inert object.

Drifting away is not good unless you’re Dobie Gray.



  1. […] failures anomalies issues? Fairly recent examples include AEHF-1; Eutelsat W3B; the Glonass launch failure; SkyTerra 1 (resolved); and others.  More recent examples include […]

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