November 19, 2008

Orbital Identity Crisis Chronicles

Quico says: So I was reading this thing and wondering how long it will take after the satellite breaks down before Chavistas suddenly "discover" that the First Venezuelan Satellite wasn't actually Venezuelan at all and start passing the buck saying, y'know, of course that thing was 100% certified slanty-eyed, rice-burning and amarillo amarillito from day one:
In May 2007, the Nigerian government rejoiced as the Chinese-built Nigeria Communications Satellite - 1 (NIGCOMSAT-1), was sent into orbit by a Chinese rocket at the Xichang launch facility. Nigeria was upbeat and looking forward to 15 years of advanced telecommunications service, thanks to a satellite which China, along with sending into space, had funded to the tune of well over $200 million.

But in early November, after NIGCOMSAT-1 had been in service for only 18 months, all the dreams were dashed. NIGCOMSAT-1 went out of service completely with its onboard electrical power supply damaged significantly due to a malfunctioning solar array. Rumors flew that it was almost completely out of control and perhaps a threat to nearby satellites. These were addressed by Nigerian and later Chinese officials, but only after a day had passed, and after that only a series of denials were issued.

Just a week earlier, the Chinese had launched a new communications satellite for Venezuela known as Venesat-1 which used the same core technology or "bus" as NIGCOMSAT-1. If the sequence of events was reversed, and Venezuela's first communications satellite was still on the ground when the NIGCOMSAT-1 breakdown took place, there is a strong possibility that Chinese satellite engineers would have postponed the launch of Venesat-1 to make sure that the same problem would not surface again.

Now, with the window of opportunity for a thorough pre-launch assessment of Venesat-1 lost, its operators in Caracas are almost completely powerless to control its fate, and no doubt evaluating the need for a new game-plan.