The Venezuelan satellite was the Chinese company's third satellite based on the DFH-4 platform but only the first to operate past its infancy
Fremont, CA: Venezuela confirmed that its first and only government-operated communications satellite VeneSat-1 suffered a mission ending failure, which its Chinese manufacturer, China Great Wall Industry Corp., blamed on a solar array problem. U.S. satellite tracking companies AGI and ExoAnalytic Solutions spotted VeneSat-1 tumbling in an unusual orbit above the geostationary arc. The Venezuelan Ministry of science and technology acknowledged the loss of the satellite but did not provide any cause for the same. China Great Wall Industry Corp. Executive Vice President Fu Zhiheng stated that the satellite suffered a solar array drive assembly problem that resulted in VeneSat-1’s failure and emergency relocation effort.
Drive assemblies point a satellite’s solar arrays at the sun to provide power. In case of a dual-drive assembly failure, a satellite operator is left with just a few hours of battery power to retire its spacecraft before it becomes inoperable. Typically, geostationary satellites are retired into so-called graveyard orbits, which are high enough to prevent them from posing a hazard to operating satellites. On March 13, VeneSat-1’s operators performed two maneuvers to relocate the ailing satellite above the geostationary belt, a popular orbit roughly 36,000 kilometers above the equator.
With the first maneuver, the operator stretched VeneSat-1’s orbit from circular to elliptical, with a high point, or apogee, of about 525 kilometers above the geosynchronous arc. The second maneuver was performed three hours later, which raised its low point, or perigee, by 50 kilometers. The satellite started tumbling shortly after the second maneuver was performed. Bill Therien, ExoAnalytic Solutions vice president of engineering, stated that the orbit was not typical, but still high enough to steer clear of active spacecraft. A nominal graveyard orbit is circular and at least 300 kilometers above the geosynchronous arc.
The Venezuelan satellite was the Chinese company's third satellite-based on the DFH-4 platform but only the first to operate past its infancy. The first DFH-4 satellite, SinoSat-2, failed shortly after launch in 2006 because its solar arrays never fully opened. Similarly, the second DFH-4 satellite, NigComSat-1, collapsed in 2008 because of problems with its solar array drive assemblies.
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