ComSpOC warned Bolivian space agency of EchoStar-3 pass

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Updated at 1:40 p.m. Eastern.

WASHINGTON —  Analytical Graphics Inc. of Exton, Pennsylvania contacted the Bolivian Space Agency July 29 to warn that its sole satellite was in the approximate path of EchoStar’s uncommunicative EchoStar-3 satellite.

AGI’s Paul Welsh, vice president of business development, told SpaceNews Aug. 3 that ComSpOC, the company’s Commercial Space Operations Center, has tracked EchoStar-3 as it moved past two satellites so far — the SES-2 satellite for global fleet operator SES, and Tupak Katari-1, operated by the Agencia Boliviana Espacial, or ABE.

SES is a member of the Space Data Association, as is EchoStar, meaning the operator automatically received information about the upcoming pass through the organization’s Space Data Center. ABE however, is not a member.

Welsh said ComSpOC contacted ABE in the interest of flight safety.

“We notified ABE Saturday of the flyby, including providing EchoStar-3 ephemeris data to ABE.”

EchoStar said Aug. 2 that its aging EchoStar-3 broadcast satellite stopped communicating during a recent orbital maneuver. ComSpOC is tracking the satellite moving westward at 0.1 degrees per day along the geostationary arc.

Neither SES nor ABE ultimately had to move their spacecraft as a result of the pass, but were “put on guard,” according to Welsh.

Welsh said ABE is considering joining the SDA, where operators voluntarily share position data and planned satellite maneuvers in order to prevent collisions, close calls in orbit or radio frequency interference. Tupak Katari is Bolivia’s first telecommunications satellite; China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) built the satellite and launched it on a Long March 3B rocket in December 2013.

AGI is feeding EchoStar-3 ephemeris, or orbital position, data into the SDA’s Space Data Center for safety-of-flight screenings, Welsh said. Additionally, he said AGI is providing SDA with visual observation data from ground-based telescopes. Including partner sites, AGI has close to 100 telescopes trained on the sky, he said.

Welsh said EchoStar alerted ComSpOC of the drifting satellite “almost immediately,” and that ComSpOC has been sending the company position information on the satellite when observed since then.

“We also increased our sensor time on the vehicle in order gather photometric data to provide insights into vehicle attitude and dynamics,” he added.

Welsh said ComSpOC is using optical telescopes to monitor EchoStar-3’s orbit every night while it is visible. The satellite is no longer three-axis stable, meaning it is tumbling, he said.

EchoStar spokesperson Kathy Miller did not respond to SpaceNews requests for comment.

Welsh said the next satellite EchoStar-3 will pass is Intelsat’s Galaxy 28 in about 12 days.

ComSpOC computes conjunction alerts when a satellite or object comes within 50-kilometers of another satellite in the geostationary arc. When two satellites generate a conjunction alert, Welsh said the system will send the operators of both satellites a notification, along with their contact information. He said satellite operators can choose what distance will trigger an alert if 50-kilometers is deemed too much.