Newly Launched Satellite Fails in Space
The W2M satellite is transported on a pallet that is easily controlled by a single launch team member during its movement through the S5 facility.
Credit: Arianespace.

PARIS - The Eutelsat W2M telecommunications satellite - the inaugural product of a Euro-Indian commercial joint venture - has failed in orbit just five weeks after launch and is likely a total loss, industry officials said.

Paris-based Eutelsat, in a Jan. 28 statement, confirmed that W2M, launched Dec. 20, suffered "a major anomaly affecting the satellite's power subsystem" and would not fulfill its role of replacing Eutelsat's W2 satellite at the company's 16 degrees east orbital position.

The W2 satellite at that orbital slot continues to work well, but is nearly 11 years old. Eutelsat said it now will replace W2 with the much larger W3B satellite scheduled for launch in mid-2010.

The immediate problem for Eutelsat is that the company it had customers waiting to use the failed W2M satellite who cannot be placed on the aging capacity-constrained W2 spacecraft. Once operational, the W2M would have increased Eutelsat's capacity at 16 degrees east to 30 transponders from the current 27.

"Eutelsat is analyzing options using its existing in-orbit resources for meeting the requirements of clients who were expected to benefit from the increased capacity on W2M in comparison to W2," Eutelsat said in its statement.

The satellite is the latest to fail in space in recent weeks. On Jan. 15, the SES Luxemburg-owned telecommunications satellite Astra 5A failed after 12 years in Earth orbit. An update released by NASA?s Orbital Debris Program Office this month reported that the Soviet-era Cosmos 1818 satellite, which launched in 1987 with its own nuclear reactor, is breaking apart in orbit.

W2M is the first satellite to be launched as part of a joint venture formed in February 2006, with the blessing of the French and Indian governments, of Astrium Satellites of Europe and Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

The joint venture's ambition is to offer a low-cost alternative to satellites at the lower end of the power and weight range of commercial telecommunications satellites. It is a market niche that has been exploited most successfully in recent years by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

The Astrium-Antrix joint venture has sold a second satellite, to Avanti Communications Group of London, whose Hylas consumer-broadband satellite is nearing completion.

Avanti Chief Executive said Jan. 28 through a spokeswoman that the Avanti satellite does not use the components suspected of causing the failure on W2M.