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Where old satellites go to die

02 April 2017

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After almost 20 years of service - a remarkable feat, given its expected lifetime of five years - a series of manoeuvres will be carried out to take the Meteosat-7 satellite out of its current geostationary orbit, 36,000km above the Earth, to its new and final resting place.

So, what is the "graveyard orbit", why do we need one and how will Meteosat-7 get there?

Today, thousands of satellites fly on various types of orbits around the Earth.

As satellites have a limited lifespan, care must be taken to ensure that spacecraft that are no longer operational and able to be controlled from Earth pose no risk to others sharing the same space.

Low-Earth-orbiting satellites - like EUMETSAT's MetOp spacecraft, which orbit the planet at an altitude of 817km on a path that takes them over the poles - are today required to reserve enough fuel at the end of their service to enable operators to manoeuvre them to a lower orbit which will cause them to re-enter and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere within 25 years.

Source: EUMETSAT

Image credit: EUMETSAT - Meteosat-7

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