Eumetsat’s Meteosat-6 Moved to Graveyard Orbit

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Europe’s Meteosat-6 weather satellite on April 15 was moved into a graveyard orbit some 380 kilometers above the geostationary belt after 17 years of operations, the Eumetsat meteorological organization announced.

The spin-stabilized satellite, launched in 1993 on what was designed as a five-year mission, was “passivated” on arrival at its retirement location, meaning its remaining fuel was dumped, its batteries discharged and its fuel tanks vented to remove gas, Milan Klinc, Eumetsat spacecraft and flight dynamics engineer, said in a statement. These techniques are designed to mitigate the risk that Meteosat-6, if hit by another piece of orbital debris, would explode and create still more debris.

The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) has set guidelines for disposal of geostationary satellites upon retirement that are designed to minimize the potential for debris creation. Not all operators always follow them, however.

In addition to serving Europe’s meteorological needs, Meteosat-6 in 2007 was moved into a slot over the Indian Ocean to relay data from ocean buoys as part of a tsunami warning system. Eumetsat’s Meteosat-7 satellite is now performing that function at 57.5 degrees east in geostationary orbit, where it is expected to stay until 2013 or later, Eumetsat said.