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AsiaSat 3 – the story of a commercial satellite that became a mission to the moon

The delusional story of the commercial communication satellite AsiaSat 3 which was launched in 1997 into space, and accidentally became a (dual) mission around the moon

Imaging of the AsiaSat 3 / HGS 1 satellite
Imaging of the AsiaSat 3 / HGS 1 satellite

Our story begins in the beautiful 90s. In February 1996, the Hong Kong-based Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co., Ltd. contracts with the American company Hughes Space and Communications International, Inc., so that the latter will build a communications satellite for it to be used by the company for television broadcasts and advanced communications services in Asia, the East- Middle East, Australia and other countries.

The transaction was completed without any particular problems, despite political instability resulting from the return of Hong Kong to Chinese authorities on July 1, 1997.

On December 12, 1997, the satellite was launched into space by the Russians from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The plan was to put AsiaSat 3 into a geostationary orbit so that it would circle the Earth every 24 hours, meaning it would maintain its position above a certain point in the sky. But fate had other plans for our commercial satellite. A fatal mistake, which cost the company millions of dollars, will go down in history.

The Proton-K Blok-DM3 rocket that launched the satellite into orbit failed in the fourth stage of the second burn. As a result, the AsiaSat 3 satellite never reached its intended orbit. It did arrive in space and worked without any problem, but the high inclination and elliptical orbit did not allow proper and stable operation. This forced the insurers to declare a total loss. It later turned out that the rocket that launched the satellite was designed to lift a maximum weight of 2.4 tons, and the AsiaSat 3 satellite exceeded this weight by 134 kg.

The management of Asia Satellites realized that they would not receive the television broadcasts through the dizzying satellite, in order to minimize damages an agreement was signed with Hughes Global Services, Inc. in which the latter purchases ownership of the satellite in exchange for the right to receive the insurance company's money. The purchase gave Hughes control of the satellite and they renamed it HGS 1.

Entering the pages of history

Since the company owned a satellite that is not worth a penny (total loss), all that remains to be done is to wait for the insurance money. But someone decided to be creative.

After all, the company specializes in satellites, and has the engineers, knowledge and ability. So why not try to get it back on track and earn a few more pennies? There was probably some Jewish head there who understood that the only way to do this is by turning the satellite towards the moon and performing several maneuvers that will help the gravitational forces in order to return to a proper orbit around the earth.

Using the satellite's propulsion capabilities and harnessing the moon's gravity to their advantage, starting on April 12, 1998, they performed 11 well-planned engine ignitions. The 12th ignition occurred on May 7, 1998, and sent the satellite on a nine-day journey around the moon. On May 13, AsiaSat 3 / HGS1 reached a height of only 6,200 km (!) above the surface of the moon. And in a sense it became the first commercial vessel to reach the moon.

By May 16, the satellite had moved away to a distance of 42,000 km from the moon. The second lap began on June 1 and the satellite approached a distance of 34,300 km from the surface. The Moon's gravity helped bring AsiaSat 3 / HGS1 back into its intended orbit around Earth, after 4 more engine firings.

The various maneuvers were carried out exactly according to the plan and they improved the inclination of the satellite and brought it to its intended orbit. The goal was achieved but the driving ability was decreasing. When it eventually entered its geostationary orbit, the remaining fuel was enough for half of the original lifetime - a huge achievement that was self-evident given the fact that total-loss had already been declared.

And how does the legend end?

At the beginning of 1999, AsiaSat 3 / HGS1 was purchased by PanAmSat Corporation, the new owners changed its name to PAS 22 and decided to move it to another orbit.

Asia Satellite Company used the money received from the sale of the satellite to order a new satellite from Muse. The new satellite - AsiaSat 3S - was a copy of its predecessor. It was also launched into space by Proton-K Blok-DM3, this time the launch was successful.

Like many mistakes and malfunctions, the case of AsiaSat 3 also entered the history books. For the first time, a commercial company managed to maneuver a simple communication satellite into orbit around the moon (twice). This proved that these capabilities are not only in the hands of superpowers or government bodies budgeted with huge budgets. With a little desire (and a suitable economic motive) there is no limit to our abilities.

12 תגובות

  1. Yehuda:
    When you read in depth you will see that the deviation is not the same for all spacecraft and that Anderson's assessment is that it is precisely the same phenomenon.
    Not that this assessment has any value, but it is his assessment nonetheless.

  2. Shaul, thanks for the referral. It is about the anomalies in the movement of spaceships. I will read carefully and respond. But what can already be noted from what I can already see is that there are probably two anomalies in the movement of the spaceships. As I claimed at the time. Here are Anderson's words:

    We have no convincing explanation for either the Pioneer anomaly or the flyby anomaly."

    It is interesting that the deviation is the same for all spacecraft, so it is possible that this is a change in the laws of gravity. As they say in the article there:
    maybe the law of gravity itself needs to be modified

    So, nice to ask about his initiative.
    Sabdarmish Yehuda

  3. really interesting. It's always nice to see how a little common sense and unwillingness to give up yield results.
    Thanks for the article!

  4. The company in question is, of course, that of the pilot-genius-charming-hypochondriac: Howard Hughes, late Eden.

  5. To Yehuda, Michael and all those interested in the question of the validity of Newton's laws against the laws of relativity The link is below

    To Avi Blaszewski,
    Sorry for the long link. I'm not to blame here.


  6. Avi:
    The option of a direct link to a comment does not work correctly.
    Although the correct bookmark is entered, the address to which it is assigned is incorrect.
    And if we are talking about functionality improvements - I would expand the search to (optionally) also include comments.

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