Rascom-QAF 1 Parked in Graveyard Orbit

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PARIS — The Rascom-QAF 1 telecommunications satellite, launched in December 2007 with a leak in its helium-pressurization system, has been placed into a graveyard orbit despite the fact that at least two satellite operators expressed interest in buying it to fill vacant orbital slots, according to industry officials.

The satellite’s owner, Rascom of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, abandoned the revenue opportunity following an assessment by satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space that Rascom-QAF 1 was too close to a complete shutdown to risk a transfer to another operator.

A replacement satellite, Rascom-QAF 1R, was successfully launched in August and is now operational at Rascom’s 2.9 degrees east orbital slot. Rascom, which is 63-percent owned by the Libyan African Investment Portfolio, 25 percent by 45 African telecommunications operators and 12 percent by Thales Alenia Space, is building a pan-African network of rural telephone and Internet booths.

Industry officials said at least two companies had asked to bid on Rascom-QAF 1 despite its limited remaining in-orbit life. Even in inclined orbit, meaning it is no longer stabilized on its north-south axis, it might have been useful to an operator under a tight deadline to occupy an orbital position or risk having the slot revoked.

Thales Alenia Space officials said Rascom did not want to risk being responsible, even if indirectly, for a satellite that might have failed before being placed out of the geostationary arc. Rascom-QAF 1, the said, in early October was placed into an orbit that is more than 300 kilometers above geostationary orbit over the equator, in keeping with international guidelines for satellite disposal.