Errant EchoStar-3 satellite retired into graveyard orbit

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WASHINGTON — An EchoStar satellite that stopped obeying commands this summer has since been boosted into a graveyard orbit 350 kilometers above the geostationary belt, EchoStar said Sept. 6.

EchoStar-III Lockheed Martin
EchoStar-3 undergoing testing prior to launch. Credit: Lockheed Martin.

EchoStar-3, a 20-year-old television broadcast satellite from Lockheed Martin, stopped responding to commands in late July during a relocation maneuver and began drifting around the geostationary arc, triggering warnings to satellite operators with nearby spacecraft.

Derek de Bastos, chief technology officer for EchoStar Satellite Services, said a joint effort between EchoStar and Lockheed Martin succeeded in reestablishing command and control of the satellite. It was raised to the higher graveyard orbit above GEO — the operating orbit for most communications satellites — where its fuel tanks have now been depleted and its batteries drained.

During an earnings call early last month, EchoStar President and CEO Michael Dugan said that EchoStar and Lockheed Martin had regained contact with EchoStar-3, but had not yet managed to restore command of the satellite. 

Built on Lockheed Martin’s A2100 platform, EchoStar-3 was still functioning five years past its 15-year design life.

With EchoStar-3 retired, EchoStar now operates a fleet of 25 satellites in geostationary orbit for broadcast and internet connectivity services. The company has new capacity launching on SES-11 in October, a satellite EchoStar intends to lease Ku-band capacity on for at least 10 years.