Intelsat has shut down the payload of its wayward Galaxy 15 satellite.
The Galaxy 15 geostationary satellite stopped responding to commands in mid-August, with Intelsat saying the machine’s electronics were likely damaged by a geomagnetic storm. Its broadcast communications payloads were unaffected.
The company this week said it turned off the satellite’s C-Band broadcast payload on August 31, reducing the risk of interfering with signals from other spacecraft.
An Intelsat spokesperson told SpaceNews, however, that Galaxy 15 continues to drift out of its geostationary orbit slot at 133 degrees West, and “will soon begin transiting through orbital locations licensed for other satellites.”
“Intelsat is working closely with impacted operators to minimize the impact of these transients,” the spokesperson said via email. “With the payload muted, the focus of this coordination ensures ‘fly-by’ procedures are coordinated so that the spacecraft avoid a physical collision. This is a normal part of spacecraft operations that is regularly executed and poses minimal risk.”
The satellite company said it has moved all Galaxy 15 customers to its Galaxy 23 satellite. SpaceX is slated to launch Galaxy 33, Galaxy 15’s replacement in early October, and customers from Galaxy 23 will be moved to Galaxy 33 once that satellite enters service in November.
Galaxy 15 first started experiencing issues on August 10, but Intel was briefly able to regain control of the satellite on August 14, before further issues arose again on August 15. In an FCC filing, the company said the satellite was due to shut off automatically on August 31 if it hadn't received any commands.
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. The L-band payload was already not being used 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.