Why “super” for supersynchronous orbits? Why not “trans”? and discussions and answers there got me wondering:

Question: What was the first spacecraft intentionally moved from GEO or geosynchronous to a "graveyard orbit" to die?

Here "graveyard orbit" would be a bit higher in altitude than geosynchronous.

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    $\begingroup$ Was there ever a satellite moved to graveyard orbit "to die" and not intentionally killed (i.e. fully deactivated / tried to deactivate)? $\endgroup$
    – asdfex
    Jan 16, 2022 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ @asdfex definitely go ahead and ask it, I love it! I would guess that sometimes things aren't such as Why put SunRISE in the graveyard? Why will it "fly slightly above geosynchronous orbit"? but perhaps that's the only case? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 16, 2022 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ @asdfex, I gather many early GEO satellites were designed without explicit consideration of post mission passivation (venting of fuel, disconnecting solar arrays, etc), so just moving them out of GEO would be enough in the hope to let them die, because proper passivation was not physically possible (leading to zombie satellites like LES-1 and -5) $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2022 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ Also, with the MEV spacecraft docking and moving Intelsats which were in the graveyard orbit - suggests many were placed here because they ran out of fuel, not because their other systems had failed or were shut down (or unable to) - so they were in a sort of limbo state. Alive, but not completely dead... $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2022 at 15:42

1 Answer 1


Partial answer:

I have a different contender:

The LES-5 satellite, launched in 1967, was an early experiment in satellite-based communications broadcasting continuously since it was launched in 1967. It was decommissioned and placed in a “graveyard orbit” in 1972.


It became notable for starting to transmit again after 53 years of being 'dead'.

But this paper says 1977:

The geostationary ring is a valuable resource currently populated by more than 340 operational satellites. Unlike in low Earth orbit there is no atmospheric drag which will remove abandoned objects over time. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the spacecraft operators to keep this unique orbital region clean. Already in 1977, Perek (1977) proposed1 that spacecraft should be systematically removed from their geostationary orbit (GEO) at end-of-mission. In the same year INTELSAT sent for the first time in space history an aging satellite into a GEO graveyard orbit.

Since then a number of guidelines and recommendations were issued by national and international institutions...

1Perek, L., Physics, uses and regulation of GSO, IAF-SL-77-44, 28th Congress of the Int. Astronautical Federation, Prague, Czech., 1977

The paper is from 2005, and at that time eight Intelsats had already been boosted to the graveyard orbit.

Unfortunately the document does not state which satellite was sent in 1977 and by that time there were numerous Intelsats that were retired.


  • Intelsat III F-2 ceased operations after only a year and a half in orbit, in mid-1971. It is listed as in supersynchronous orbit.
  • Intelsat III F-3 has a wiki (sorry) entry:

At the end of its service life, Intelsat III F-3 was raised into a higher orbit to reduce the probability of it colliding with an operational spacecraft.

Although it was decommissioned in 1979, two years later, it could be said that in 1977 while it was still serviceable though not in service, that this was when it was transferred to its graveyard orbit. (No actual sources atm, but its the only one to get noted for the orbital shift)

Including all of the first, second, and third generation satellites that were launched and retired and/or failed before or in 1977, that makes 8 potential satellites to have been the first.

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    $\begingroup$ That paper was not the most useful for this question - that text is from the introduction.. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2022 at 5:14
  • $\begingroup$ Actually I think it's really helpful! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 16, 2022 at 5:25
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    $\begingroup$ (I meant in not telling me which satellite was first). After some searching, the sources I've looked at have all been inconsistent with dates for decommissioning and transfers. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2022 at 5:29
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    $\begingroup$ searching TLEs of the 1970's in spacetrack for mean motion consistent with an altitude a few hundred km above GEO would find the smoking gun $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 16, 2022 at 5:32
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    $\begingroup$ I know, but I'm supposed to somewhere else... $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2022 at 5:33

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