The sad story of Olympus 1


Olympus -1 was a satellite which has to be one of the unluckiest ever to reach orbit. In its short life, it suffered a solar panel failure, had an unscheduled trip round the world, and then was damaged by an impact during the 1993 August Perseid meteor shower !

It was launched on 12th July 1989 on Ariane flight V32 from Kourou French Guiana. It was built by British Aerospace for ESA (European Space Agency), and it cost about $850 million. At the time of launch, it was the largest civilian telecomms satellite ever built - which is where its alternative name L-Sat (LargeSat) came from.

It was the first European satellite to offer capacity in the Ka band - (20 / 30 GHz) - a band which will become increasingly important over the next few years for internet communications by satellite.

The satellite was designed with a 7 year lifespan. However, after a long catalogue of mishaps, it was out of service by mid August 1993.


Technical details

The Olympus satellite was a technology test bed, and put onto station at 18.8W. The on-station mass of Olympus was 1.5 metric tons with a payload of 360 kg. It used 3-axis stabilisation.

Olympus had four separate payloads. One was a two channel high power direct broadcasting payload operation at 12/18 GHz. Another was a four channel 12/14 GHz specialized services payload and a 12/20/30 GHz beacon package for propagation experiments. The last one was the 20/30 GHz payload for advanced communication experiments. All these payloads contributed to the 2595kg mass of the satellite. The satellite was very big - its dimensions were 2.9 x 2.7 x 5.6m.

It had two 27.5 m solar arrays which were designed to give a minimum of 3.6 kW at end of life.

Although the main contractor was British Aerospace there were major contributions from Alenia Spazio, Fokker, Matra Marconi, and Spar Aerospace Ltd. The principal ESA participants in the Olympus program were Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

There was a main spot beam onto Italy, with a second beam which covered most of Europe. The high frequency band was also used for data relay experiments with the ESA "Eureca" satellite.

Transponder power:    DBS transponders - 230W / other transponders 30W


The problems start.

January 1991. The south solar panel stopped tracking the sun, which reduced available power to about 1.8kW. Then on 29th May 1991, a problem with an attitude control problem was made worse by some incorrect commands uplinked from Fucino Earth Station Italy.This caused major failures in the propulsion, electrical, and thermal control systems. The satellite started tumbling, and drifted slowly off station.... Darmstadt Control Centre regained control of the satellite on 19th June 1992, but not before the satellite had completely circled the Earth! The manoevers used up a lot of the station keeping fuel, but was put back into service at 19W on 7th August 1992.



On 12th August 1993, control was lost again, this time more seriously. The spacecraft started spinning again - probably after an impact with a meteor from the annual Perseid meteor shower. The spacecraft was still working, but the attitude upset caused the control centre to use up most of the remaining propellant in trying to stabilise it. Controllers eventually admitted defeat. There was now insufficient fuel on board to return it to geostationary orbit, and regain 3-axis stabilisation....

The crafts altitude was reduced slightly to get it into graveyard orbit, away from the geostationary arc. The spacecraft was safed, and declared out of service on 12th August 1993.


Olympus spotted!

Whilst researching this satellite, I ran across a reference to an amateur astronomer spotting Olympus. On April 29th 2001, he spotted an unidentified tumbling satellite whilst making observations of other craft. The unidentified craft turned out to be none other than Olympus 1. Its very faint (about magnitude 9) and well below naked eye visibility, but its nice to know its still up there after all the mishaps.


Olympus 1

The Olympus 1 satellite ESA



The European Space Agency distributed a press release giving details of the end of the Olympus mission in August 1993.





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