Oldest Working Satellites

How old is the oldest working satellite? US’s Vanguard 1 is still in orbit 50+ years later, but it’s long since stopped working. Still pretty impressive considering most orbits decay over time and they meet a fiery death.

The most definitive list of old satellites I could find is this:

  Satellite   Year of Launch    Type       Operator   Status

 (EGRS 7      1966          ITT Secor      US Army    Last report 1980) [not functioning]
  ATS 3       1967          Hughes HS-306  NASA       Still working 1990s [decomissioned]
 (NATO IIA    1970          Ford Skynet    NATO/USAF  At 105W, status unknown)
 (DSCS II F-1 1971          TRW DSCS 2     USAF       At 100-110W since 1979)
  IMP 8       1973          GSFC IMP       NASA       Still OK 1998
  Skynet IIB  1974          Marconi Skynet UK MoD     Still OK 1994
  LES 8       1976          Lincon Labs    USAF       Still OK 1992
  LES 9       1976          Lincon Labs    USAF       Still OK 1992 [decomissioned]
  Marisat 103 1976          Hughes HS-333  INMARSAT   Active
  GOES 2      1977          Ford SMS       NOAA       Active [decomissioned]
  FLTSATCOM 1 1978          TRW FLTSAT     USN        Active  [likely decommissioned]
  GOES 3      1978          Ford SMS       NOAA       Active

I was able to clean up this list a bit. My notes are in [brackets] to the right. For certain GOES 3 is still operational for communications purposes and is certainly one of the oldest if not the oldest working satellites in orbit.

It’s possible IMP 8 is still working as well, the most recent evidence I can find was from 2006 suggesting it was operational. FLTSATCOM 1 is likely decommissioned but I can’t find solid confirmation.

Several of the other ones are of a mystery. I suspect most of them had military elements to them and were quietly disposed of if they are no longer in use. If I had to bet, I’d say GOES 3 is most likely the oldest satellite in operation as of 2012.

GOES 3 is impressive. Who in 1978 would think it would be providing 1-megabit per second data transmission to the South Pole for communications purposes.

4 replies on “Oldest Working Satellites”

The amateur radio satellite Amsat Ocsar 7(AO-7) was launched in 1974 and is still semi operational. It’s batteries are long dead but it still works off solar when it’s in the sunlight. I was wondering how it compared to older satellites and it seems none of the lists include ham radio satellites. Just another one to add to the list, and it’s still working as of today, 5-30-2012.

I have recently identified LES1 satellite still transmitting. It was launched in February 1965 into a transit orbit but failed to fire up into a higher geostationary orbit. Lincoln Laboratories abandoned it in 1965. It is sending a carrier on 237Mhz and I found it some 45 years later with fairly simple equipment, and with help from a colleagues in Croatia and USA have positively identified it as LES1.

Phil G3YPQ N.Cornwall UK

Ref LES1 launched Feb 1965, its just had its 50th birthday and is still transmitting when illuminated by the sun on 237Mhz.
Phil G3YPQ N.Cornwall

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