US pay-TV operator DirecTV, now part of AT&T, has a potentially catastrophic problem with its Spaceway-1 satellite.
The broadcaster has told the FCC that the satellite has a major battery thermal problem with its on-board satellite. The filing was made on January 19th with the satellite’s manufacturer Boeing saying that the batteries damaged cells cannot be isolated and may burst if a recharge is attempted.
The satellite is not currently being used for its traditional Ka-band HD broadcasts from 102.8 degrees West, but is being used to back up signals for DirecTV’s Alaska clients. No customers would be affected by the satellite’s loss.
Spaceway-1 was launched in 2005 and designed to last for 12 years, and prior to this problem the satellite was expected to serve until 2025.
DirecTV has switched from battery back-up to being totally dependent on its solar panels but would find itself in the Earth’s shadow in late February, when the satellite would be wholly dependent on battery power.
This is a risk, says DirecTV, and thus is asking the FCC for permission to de-orbit the satellite urgently and before February 25th. The problem is the amount of propellent still on board the craft. It is carrying some 73 kgs of propellent and DirecTV says it would not be able to discharge all this propellent by February 25th.
The broadcaster, subject to FCC permission, would then elevate the satellite some 300 kms to a ‘graveyard’ safe orbit.