Intelsat 603 Deorbits, Continues to Inspire

It was the satellite story that captured the attention of the world nearly a quarter century ago. The Intelsat 603 satellite, launched on 14 March, 1990, was marooned in low-earth orbit. The remarkable public-private partnership among NASA, Hughes (the manufacturer of the satellite) and Intelsat yielded an exciting reboost mission that was carried out by the Space Shuttle Endeavour on its inaugural flight in May of 1992.

It was a drama fraught with ingenuity, tenacity and cliff-hangers the likes of which Hollywood blockbusters are made. It was also a saga filled with many firsts:

Following its rescue, IS-603 contributed to communications in Europe, Africa and the Americas, carrying telephone calls and television channels for more than 20 years (the initial life span of the satellite was estimated to be 14 years).

For the past few weeks, Intelsat’s satellite control center has been sending the sequence of commands to deorbit this famous bird.

When the final command is sent from Intelsat’s East Coast Operations Center in Tysons Corner, VA, on Friday, 23 January, 2015, it will be the end of one era…and the beginning of another. Yet the qualities of creativity, innovation and perseverance exhibited by the talented engineers and astronauts who made history and put the satellite on course for decades of success are alive and well and hard at work at Intelsat today.

This is no more evident than with the Intelsat EpicNG®, Intelsat’s next-generation, high throughput satellite platform (the first satellite of which is slated for launch in the second half of 2015). While IS-603 carried 120,000 telephone calls and three channels of television (remarkable at the time) at a rate of 3 billion bits per second, Intelsat EpicNG satellites will connect machines to machines, power Internet connectivity on land, sea and air, and deliver critical broadband connectivity to millions of people in unserved communities across six continents at a rate of 25-60 gigabits per second (depending on application and satellite).

And Intelsat EpicNG is just the beginning. From in-orbit servicing to laser technology and reusable launch vehicles, the spirit of ingenuity and perseverance on display during the IS-603 reboost mission still inspires Intelsat’s employees to envision the impossible, connect the world, and transform lives around the planet.

Image courtesy of Jim Lemon.

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