On October 29th, Intelsat Ltd. announced that their Marisat-F2 satellite, designed to provide communication for ships at sea and scientists on the South Pole, was finally dying after 32 years of service. That’s pretty impressive. What makes it even more impressive, though, is that it was originally only designed for five years of service and in recent years has been used to provide internet connectivity (my guess is that wasn’t in the original early-1970s design specs) because it did it better than newer satellites.
Marisat-F2 was originally built by Hughes Aircraft in 1976. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several 70s-era Hughes Aircraft folks – all seriously studly engineers. Like the Voyager probes and, more recently, the Mars Opportunity Rover, Marisat-F2 is an engineering marvel. Not only has it lasted well outside its original service envelope, but it’s been repurposed along the way. I have no idea if the engineers on these projects ever even considered this long a lifetime for their creations, but they are a testament to what can happen when things are designed and built well.
The decommissioning is happening because some of the satellite’s support systems are finally “nearing the end of operating life.” To prevent it from colliding with the still functioning stuff orbiting the planet, like death lasers and nuclear weapon nets, Intelsat decided to use its remaining fuel to raise it about 125 miles to “disposal altitude.” Think Spock being ejected from a photon torpedo tube.
RIP Marisat. I hope your creators are now educating young minds everywhere about how to build good stuff.