The solar array of an Echostar satellite that had remained stuck in its stowed position since its May 1998 launch suddenly popped open the weekend of Sept. 4, according to EchoStar and other industry officials.

Built by Lockheed Martin, the EchoStar 4 satellite was insured for $219 million and has been the subject of a legal dispute between EchoStar and its insurance underwriters for the past six years.

During that period, the satellite used more of its on-orbit fuel than normal to maintain itself stably in orbit. It remains unclear how much additional life the satellite has left now that both of its solar arrays are generating full power.

EchoStar spokesman Steve Caulk said Sept. 8 that the stuck solar array “deployed on its own this past weekend” after long-term exposure to the sun.

One industry official said the solar array deployed without warning during routine operations. Two industry officials said the development likely would complicate the ongoing arbitration between EchoStar and its underwriters, who never paid the claim on the satellite.