After another satellite was out of service in geostationary orbit this week, at least temporarily, now new data suggest that the spacecraft may not be recoverable.
On Wednesday, the Intelsat satellite operator acknowledged a "service interruption" on its Intelsat 29e satellite, which affected customers of maritime, aeronautic and wireless carriers in Latin America, the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. During the incident on Sunday, April 7, the spacecraft 'propulsion system "suffered damage that caused a flight of the propeller on the satellite," said Intelsat. At that time, Intelsat periodically lost communication with the satellite, but the company was working with its manufacturer, Boeing, to restore the connection.
However, the new data from ExoAnalytic Solutions, which has a network of 300 telescopes around the planet to track the movements of satellites in geostationary spaces, shows that the situation worsened dramatically.
Ever since the Sunday anomaly has been alerted, the company has followed Intelsat 29e with at least two telescopes at all times, said CEO Doug Hendrix. On Thursday, one of these telescopes captured the video below, which shows a continuous fragmentation of the satellite over a period of four hours. The light ball in the center is Intelsat 29e and the rays are background stars. In the first place, there are a series of abnormal gas events from the exit of the ship, after which there remains a persistent halo. While Halo dissipates, there are several pieces of debris that continue to be tracked.
Before Thursday's incident, the satellite had been wandering around 0.5 degrees per day to the east. After the sequence of events, this drifting movement increased to 1 degree a day, said Hendrix. The main satellite and several of the debris pieces are now in orbits that cross geosynchronous altitude.
For the moment, Hendrix has said that the company will work back, reviewing data to try to determine if any type of external event, such as a micro-meteorite or debris existing in the geostationary area, could cause the initial problem with the satellite, which was only three years and it is close to the beginning of his life in orbit. "When there is such an anomaly with a new satellite, it forces us to understand the external environment," he said.
The Intelsat 29 anomaly comes in the midst of a series of satellite problems in geostationary orbit, where large communication and observation satellites can look to the same area of the planet without spending fuel to maintain its position. During the past two years, satellites such as AMC-9, Telkom-1, AMOS-5, Eutelsat-33B, EchoStar-3 and Galaxy 11 have experienced anomalies in orbit.
"Our team is reviewing this data to identify potential trends, common and potentially common causes with incidents," said Hendrix. "We hope that our analysis will find convincing evidence to understand what happened to Intelsat 29e and possibly previous anomalies in orbit."
List image by ExoAnalytic Solutions