by Caleb Henry —
WASHINGTON — Venezuela confirmed its first and only government-operated communications satellite, VeneSat-1, suffered a mission-ending failure that its Chinese builder blamed on a solar array problem.
Satellite trackers at U.S. companies AGI and ExoAnalytic Solutions on March 13 spotted VeneSat-1 tumbling in an unusual orbit above the geostationary arc.
On March 25, after SpaceNews reported the apparent satellite failure, Venezuela’s ministry of science and technology acknowledged the loss of VeneSat-1 but did not provide a cause.
However, Fu Zhiheng, executive vice president of China Great Wall Industry Corp., which built VeneSat-1 for the Venezuelan government, told SpaceNews the satellite suffered a solar array drive assembly problem that resulted in VeneSat-1’s failure and emergency relocation effort.
Drive assemblies point a satellite’s solar arrays at the sun to provide power. A failure of both drive assemblies can leave a satellite operator with just hours of battery power to retire its spacecraft before it becomes inoperable, according to an industry source familiar with satellite designs. Geostationary satellites are typically retired into so-called graveyard orbits high enough to prevent them from posing a hazard to operating satellites.