Engineers monitor transmissions at a Communications System Control Centre run by Eutelsat, one of the members of a consortium bidding to develop IRIS². Credit: Adrien Daste / Eutelsat (2021)

TAMPA, Fla. — Eutelsat said Jan. 19 it retired a satellite last week that had helped Europe transition from analog to digital television two decades ago.

After operating more than five years beyond its 15-year design life, the Eutelsat 5 West A satellite was moved to a graveyard orbit some 400 kilometers above the geostationary arc.

The satellite’s propulsion system was then depressurized and its electrical equipment passivated per French law and international Space Traffic Management recommendations, according to the Paris-based operator.

At 4:57 a.m. Eastern Jan. 13, Eutelsat said it turned off the satellite’s telemetry transmitter to deactivate all remaining radio frequency sources.

Eutelsat 5 West A was a “disruptive satellite for the Group,” the operator said in a news release, having played a key role in the transition to higher definition, more interference-resistant digital programming — notably in France in the early 2000s.

The satellite was originally built by Alcatel Alenia Space — now Thales Alenia Space — for a joint venture called Stellat, which was majority owned by the French telecoms giant now known as Orange.

Eutelsat bought the Eutelsat 5 West A satellite shortly after its launch in July 2002 and operated it at 5 degrees west for its entire operational life.

The Eutelsat 5 West B satellite that launched in 2019 was supposed to relieve Eutelsat 5 West A of its duties. However, the Northrop Grumman-built satellite suffered a power failure that cut its capacity by nearly half.

Eutelsat 5 West A was put in a fuel-saving inclined orbit in 2019, which prolonged its life but limited the types of services it could provide, while customers were progressively offloaded to Eutelsat 5 West B and other satellites in the operator’s fleet.

Toward the end of its mission, Eutelsat 5 West A was mostly providing maritime connectivity.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...