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.