Tue. Sep 26th, 2023
Glossary of Terms: Satellite Retirement

Satellite Retirement is a term used in the space industry to describe the process of decommissioning a satellite that has reached the end of its operational life. This process involves removing the satellite from its orbit and either placing it in a graveyard orbit or deorbiting it to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Satellites are designed to operate for a specific period of time, typically between 5 and 15 years, depending on their purpose and the technology used. After this time, the satellite’s components begin to degrade, and its performance may deteriorate. In some cases, the satellite may even become a hazard to other spacecraft in orbit.

To prevent this, satellite operators plan for the retirement of their satellites well in advance. This involves developing a retirement plan that outlines the steps that will be taken to decommission the satellite and dispose of it safely.

The first step in the retirement process is to move the satellite to a graveyard orbit. This is a specific orbit that is located far enough away from other operational satellites to prevent collisions. Once the satellite is in this orbit, it is no longer a threat to other spacecraft and can be left there indefinitely.

If the satellite cannot be moved to a graveyard orbit, the next step is to deorbit it. This involves using the satellite’s propulsion system to lower its altitude until it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. Once in the atmosphere, the satellite will burn up due to the friction caused by the air resistance.

The process of deorbiting a satellite is carefully planned to ensure that it does not pose a threat to people or property on the ground. Satellites are typically deorbited over an uninhabited area of the ocean to minimize the risk of any debris reaching land.

Satellite retirement is an important part of the space industry, as it helps to ensure the safety and sustainability of space operations. By retiring satellites in a responsible manner, operators can minimize the risk of collisions and other hazards in orbit.

In addition to the retirement of individual satellites, there is also a broader effort underway to address the issue of space debris. This refers to the thousands of pieces of debris that are currently orbiting the Earth, including old satellites, rocket stages, and other objects.

To address this issue, the space industry is working to develop new technologies and policies that will help to reduce the amount of debris in orbit. This includes designing satellites that are easier to deorbit at the end of their operational life, as well as developing new methods for removing debris from orbit.

Overall, satellite retirement is an important aspect of space operations that helps to ensure the safety and sustainability of the space environment. By carefully planning for the retirement of satellites and working to address the issue of space debris, the space industry can continue to operate safely and responsibly in the years to come.