Editorial: Rascom Gets it Right, Again

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Rascom, the startup African satellite operator whose first satellite suffered a leak in its fuel pressurization system that drastically reduced its on-orbit life expectancy, was absolutely correct in passing up an opportunity to sell the stricken craft to another company.

According to industry sources, at least two companies expressed interest in buying Rascom-QAF 1 while there still was some means of controlling the craft, perhaps to preserve rights to orbital slots for future spacecraft. But Rascom, which did not want to risk being in any way responsible had the satellite failed completely and become a permanent hazard in the increasingly crowded geostationary-orbit arc, opted instead to boost the craft 300 kilometers higher into a safe graveyard orbit. This is in keeping with international guidelines for disposing of geostationary-orbiting satellites at the end of their lives.

Rascom faced a similar choice following Rascom-QAF 1’s December 2007 launch into geostationary-transfer orbit. It was quickly apparent that the satellite, built by Thales Alenia Space, would last only two to two-and-a-half years rather than the standard 15 years. After consulting with Thales Alenia Space, which also is a Rascom shareholder, Rascom elected to raise Rascom-QAF 1 to its final operating orbit. The decision was made only after Thales Alenia Space determined that the satellite would still have enough fuel left over to reach a safe graveyard orbit. The alternative would have been to try and guide the satellite into an atmospheric re-entry, a complicated maneuver that is not without risks of its own. As it turned out, Rascom-QAF 1 reached its operating orbit and lasted long enough to allow Rascom to deploy a replacement craft, Rascom-QAF 1R, which was launched in August and is now in operation.

With Rascom-QAF 1 now safely out of the way, Rascom has officially made the best of a bad situation while setting an example worthy of noting by all satellite operators, new and old.