PARIS - The Astra 5A commercial telecommunications satellite suffered an apparently sudden "technical anomaly" that has put an end to its in-orbit service life, and the spacecraft will be moved immediately into a graveyard orbit, owner SES of Luxembourg said Jan. 16.

Astra 5A is the former Sirius 2 spacecraft that was operated by SES Sirius of Sweden at 5 degrees east since its launch in November 1997. The spacecraft is a Spacebus 3000 model built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. In April 2008 it was moved to SES's 31.5 degrees east location, an orbital slot that SES hopes to develop to expand its services into Central and Eastern Europe.

Astra 5A suffered a short-duration problem in October and was taken out of service temporarily in what SES officials said at the time was a command error on the part of the satellite's ground operator. SES spokesman Markus Payer said in a Jan. 16 interview that the more recent failure was unrelated to the October event. Payer said an investigation with Thales Alenia Space is under way to determine the cause of the failure.

SES has transferred much of the Astra 5A traffic to an Astra spacecraft at 23.5 degrees east, and Payer said substitute capacity was being located within the SES fleet for the remaining customers on Astra 5A. "With this transfer, the economic impact of the incident on SES in 2009 will not be material," SES said in a Jan. 16 statement.

SES also has the Astra 1D satellite in place at the 31.5 degree slot to reserve SES's regulatory rights to the position, and Payer said the company already  had begun plotting scenarios for moving another of its spacecraft to that location to replace Astra 5A. Astra 1D, launched in 1994, is in inclined orbit, meaning it no longer is maintained stable on its north-south axis as a fuel-saving measure. Inclined-orbit satellites generally cannot be used for direct-broadcast television service.