by Caleb Henry —
WASHINGTON — Venezuela’s first and only state-owned communications satellite has been out of service since March 13 when a series of maneuvers left it tumbling in an unusable orbit.
The VeneSat-1 satellite, built by China Great Wall Industry Corp. and launched in late 2008 on a 15-year mission to provide television and broadband services to Venezuela, has been stuck for 10 days in an elliptical orbit above the geostationary arc, according to telescopic observations from two U.S. companies that track satellites.
VeneSat-1’s operator, the Venezuelan space agency ABAE, had issued no status reports on the satellite as of March 23 and could not be reached for comment March 22 or March 23. In January, ABAE said Venezuela and China planned to develop a replacement satellite, VeneSat-2, that would continue service after VeneSat-1 retired.
VeneSat-1 entered service in January 2009, about three months after launching on a Chinese Long March 3B rocket. The satellite was expected to remain in service until at least 2024.
Since geostationary communications satellites typically take two to three years to build, Venezuela could face a coverage gap if it can’t recover VeneSat-1 or use capacity on other satellites covering the region.
“Significant orbit change”
California-based ExoAnalytic Solutions, which operates a network of satellite- and debris-tracking telescopes, spotted a “significant orbit change” for VeneSat-1 on March 13 at 3:15 a.m. Eastern, when the satellite left its position at 78 degrees West longitude over Venezuela, Bill Therien, ExoAnalytic’s vice president of engineering, told SpaceNews. Approximately three hours later, the satellite conducted another maneuver that sent it tumbling westward, he said.