Spaceflight Insider

Intelsat 29e satellite deemed a ‘total loss’

A rendering of the Intelsat 29e communications satellite in orbit. Image Credit: Intelsat

A rendering of the Intelsat 29e communications satellite in orbit. Image Credit: Intelsat

After experiencing damage in orbit two weeks ago, satellite communications company Intelsat declared its Intelsat 29e spacecraft is not salvageable.

Located in a geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) above the Americas, Intelsat 29e, which cost the company more than $400 million, had been serving customers since shortly after its launch in January 2016.

“Late on April 7, the Intelsat 29e propulsion system experienced damage that caused a leak of the propellant on board the satellite resulting in a service disruption to customers on the satellite,” an April 18, 2019, statement from Intelsat reads. “While working to recover the satellite, a second anomaly occurred, after which all efforts to recover the satellite were unsuccessful.”

Intelsat 29e as seen before its January 2016 launch. Photo Credit: Boeing

Intelsat 29e as seen before its January 2016 launch. Photo Credit: Boeing

While it isn’t known exactly what happened, imagery by ExoAnalytic Solutions on April 12 showed debris coming off the spacecraft over a period of several hours. Additionally, Intelsat 29e is shifting away from its slot by about a degree per day to the east, according to Ars Technica.

With the spacecraft unrecoverable, Intelsat said it is working to transfer customers’ service to other satellites in the area. As of right now, it is unclear if the anomaly will affect other satellites in geostationary orbit.

“Migration and service restoration are well underway; highlighting the resiliency of the Intelsat fleet and the benefit of the robust Ku-band open architecture ecosystem,” Intelsat’s statement reads.

Launched Jan. 27, 2016, atop an Ariane 5 rocket from the Guiana Space Center in South America, the satellite was placed into a geostationary transfer orbit. It later used onboard thrusters to circularize its orbit and insert itself into its 50 degrees west longitude above North and South America.

Intelsat 29e was built on the Boeing 702MP platform and was the first of the next-generation EpicNG high-throughput satellites.

The satellite was 14,445 pounds (6,552 kilograms) at launch and measured about 24.6 by 9.8 by 6.6 feet (7.5 by 3 by 2 meters). It’s two solar panels produced about 15.8 kilowatts of power. It was designed to last at least 15 years in orbit.

According to Intelsat, it operates a fleet of more than 50 satellites across the globe, with near-term plans to launch two more: Intelsat 39 atop an Ariane 5 later in 2019 and Galaxy 30 sometime in 2020.

Video courtesy of ExoAnalytic Solutions

Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor. @TheSpaceWriter

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