Intelsat has said that the problems with Intelsat’s important mid-Atlantic IS-29a satellite, now spinning through the orbital arc, occurred as the result of two distinct events.
As reported on April 10th, the first problem happened last week on April 7th and while the problem has yet to be specified by Intelsat resulted in damage and caused a fuel leak. The possibility of a micro-meteor impact is just one of the possibilities that is being investigated.
However, it was while ground-based engineers were trying to recover the satellite that a second event occurred and seemingly resulted in the complete loss of connectivity with the satellite. Intelsat said that communications with the satellite were “intermittent” suggesting the probability that the craft was spinning.
Intelsat, in a statement, said: “While working to restore the services, on 9 April, the satellite experienced a second anomaly that caused a loss of communications to the satellite. Communication with the satellite has been intermittent. Intelsat continues to work with the satellite’s manufacturer, Boeing, on recovering communication. The Intelsat customer-facing team is focused on migrating customer services from Intelsat 29e to other Intelsat satellites serving the region, as well as third party services.”
A visual inspection of the Boeing-built satellite using high-power ground-based telescopes by specialists from ExoAnalytic Solutions said that the satellite was tumbling and drifting Eastwards. ExoAnalytic tracks satellites and space debris.
The risk now is that IS-29e could end up as a so-called ‘zombie’ rogue craft. This occurred with another Intelsat craft back in 2010 (Galaxy 15) which also suffered orbital problems, but kept re-transmitting its incoming signals as it also drifted through the orbit arc. The initial problem was later identified as an extreme solar storm which caused a communications malfunction. Remarkably the ground-based technicians were able to ‘rescue’ the satellite some 9 months later and it later re-entered the Intelsat fleet.