Intelsat-33e propulsion problems to cut service life by 3.5 years

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WASHINGTON — Two separate propulsion problems will shorten the expected lifespan of Intelsat’s second high-throughput satellite by an estimated 3.5 years, the company told SpaceNews Aug. 31.

Both anomalies are part of a $78 million insurance claim the Luxembourg- and Washington-based satellite operator filed in March, according to Dianne VanBeber, Intelsat’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communications.

Intelsat disclosed the insurance claim through its U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings in March and July, but only mentioned a previously disclosed problem with Intelsat-33e’s primary thruster.

The thruster malfunctioned following Intelsat-33e’s successful August 2016 launch atop an Ariane 5. The Boeing-built satellite, part of Intelsat’s Epic series of broadband satellites, took until December to reach its 60-degrees east orbital location.

A second propulsion problem cropped up a short while later when Intelsat initiated in-orbit testing and routine station keeping maneuvers to maintain the satellite’s position above the Earth.

“In February 2017, we noticed that the maneuvers were using more fuel than should be the case,” VanBeber said.

The inefficient fuel use, specifically while performing north and south station-keeping, stems from “a higher than expected disturbance torque between the Arcjet and the solar array,” she said.

A “significant portion” of Intelsat’s insurers have paid their share of the satellite’s $78 million insurance claim, VanBeber said. She declined to say how much of the claim remains outstanding.

VanBeber said Intelsat could potentially extend Intelsat-33e’s service life by tasking Space Logistics’ robotic Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) to rendezvous with the satellite and take over station-keeping duties.

Intelsat signed on last year as Space Logistics’ first customer. The first MEV, being built by Space Logistics’ parent company Orbital ATK, is slated to launch in late 2018 on Proton Medium, a smaller Proton rocket variant International Launch Services announced last September.