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Glitch Forces Telecommunications Satellite to Space Graveyard

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

Astra5A is theformer Sirius 2 spacecraft that was operated by SES Sirius of Sweden at 5degrees east since its launch in November 1997. The spacecraft is a Spacebus3000 model built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. In April 2008 itwas moved to SES's 31.5 degrees east location, an orbital slot that SES hopesto develop to expand its services into Central and Eastern Europe.

Astra5A suffered a short-duration problem in October and was taken out of servicetemporarily in what SES officials said at the time was a command error on thepart of the satellite's ground operator. SES spokesman Markus Payer said in aJan. 16 interview that the more recent failure was unrelated to the Octoberevent. Payer said an investigation with Thales Alenia Space is under way todetermine the cause ofthe failure.

SEShas transferred much of the Astra 5A traffic to an Astra spacecraft at 23.5degrees east, and Payer said substitute capacity was being located within theSES 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.

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



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Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at