Following almost 12 years of successful operation, Eutelsat, the satellite's owner, has decided to retire ECS-5. ESA, who was responsible for its procurement and subsequent in-orbit control, has initiated re-orbiting, end-of-life testing and decommissioning activities through its dedicated control centre at the ESA ground station in Redu (Belgium). The spacecraft is expected to be decommissioned and placed in its "graveyard" orbit of at least 150 km above geostationary altitude by the end of May 2000, thus ensuring that no debris remains in this valuable orbit.
The ECS series of spacecraft was the operational successor to ESA's successful Orbital Test Satellite (OTS) programme of the 1970's. Designed to promote pan-European telecommunications traffic, the four ECS spacecraft (a fifth one was lost because of a launcher failure) have provided services in digital telephony, international television distribution, cable television, trunk telephony, specialised services, Eurovision transmissions and mobile services. Some of these services have even been extended beyond Europe.
Since the first launch in 1983, the four spacecraft have occupied a variety of positions in the geostationary orbit ranging from 48 degrees East to 14.8 degrees West. All four spacecraft have far exceeded their design requirements, in particular their 7-year design lifetime. The ECS system has accumulated almost 3 million channel-hours of payload operation, which equates to nearly 340 channel-years.
ECS-1 and ECS-2 have already been decommissioned following over 13 and 9 years of successful operation respectively. The remaining spacecraft, ECS-4, is continuing in operation after 12 and a half years in orbit and is expected to remain in use for time being.
The end of ECS-5 will be followed shortly by the launch of the next ESA telecommunications satellite, Artemis which will carry payloads for data relay between satellites, land mobile communications and to form part of the European system for providing enhanced navigation services.
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