Intelsat has lost control of its Galaxy 15 broadcast satellite and the communications payload could automatically cease operations by the end of the month.
First reported by SpaceNews, the company thinks the machine was hit by a geomagnetic storm. Space weather activity likely knocked out onboard electronics needed to communicate with the satellite, Intelsat said, and keep it locked in its geostationary orbit slot at 133 degrees West.
“The satellite is otherwise operating nominally, keeping earth pointing with all payload operations nominal,” Intelsat spokesperson Melissa Longo told SN. Longo said Intelsat is offloading customers to another satellite “to ensure service continuity,” – reportedly Galaxy 23 – and “will continue to try to regain command once they are off so we can eventually deorbit it.”
While Intelsat is working to restore its ability to command the satellite, Longo said the company expects all customers to “have service continuity” until its Galaxy 33 replacement arrives in November.
“On August 10, 2022, Galaxy 15 experienced an anomaly, which was likely triggered by space weather,” the company said in the filing. “Due to this anomaly, Intelsat lost the telemetry and commanding links.”
The company said it was originally able to regain control of the satellite on August 14, but subsequent commands on August 15 were not conveyed to the satellite.
“Intelsat is diligently working to regain command of the satellite. The communications payload was unaffected and is currently transmitting. However, if the satellite does not receive a command by August 31, 2022, the payload is programmed to shut off automatically.”
Constructed by Orbital Sciences Corporation (now part of Northrop Grumman) for PanAmSat and launched in 2005, Intelsat took over Galaxy 15 after the two companies merged in 2006.
The 2,000kg satellite had an originally-planned operational lifespan of 15 years. It carries 24 C-band transponders serving media customers in North America.
It also has an L-band payload that was previously used by the US Federal Aviation Administration to relay GPS information to aircraft to improve navigational accuracy. Intelsat said this L-band payload is no longer in use after the FAA service migrated to Galaxy 30 soon after that satellite was launched in 2020.
This isn't the first time the satellite has experienced issues. Galaxy 15 ceased responding to commands in April 2010 -- again likely due to space weather -- causing it to drift out of its allotted orbital slot. It closely passed by SES World Skies’s AMC-11 satellite, though operators at the time were more concerned with signal interference than collision. Close passes by Intelsats’ own Galaxy 14, Telesat’s Anik F2, and a GCI satellite followed.
The drifting satellite potentially caused an outage to a National Weather Service NOAAPORT feed via SES-1 in late 2010, requiring signals to be re-routed. Galaxy 15 was eventually recovered at the end of the year after a full discharge of batteries and positioned back to its original orbital slot.