Global satellite operator Intelsat revealed, on 18 August, that it had lost control of its direct broadcast satellite Galaxy 15, blaming geomagnetic storms. It now looks like the operator has also lost control of the satellite payload which shut itself down automatically on 31 August.
Intelsat claims it “muted” the payload, according to SpaceNews.com, but it is known that the spacecraft’s payload was designed to shut down automatically if it did not receive a command within a certain period.
Galaxy 15 is now drifting out of its geostationary orbit slot at 133 degrees West. Intelsat suspects a space weather disturbance knocked out the electronics systems used to communicate with the satellite and to maintain its geostationary position.
The anomaly first occurred on 10 August, according to Intelsat’s submission to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Intelsat was able to restore its command of the satellite on 14 August, but this was short-lived. Just a day later the anomaly resurfaced, Intelsat again lost communication with Galaxy 15.
Launched in 2005, Galaxy 15 carried the WAAS Wide Area Augmentation System for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“The satellite is otherwise operating nominally,” insisted Melissa Longo, spokesperson for the “Big Four” operator. It was “keeping earth pointing with all payload operations nominal,” she added.
It is not the first time Galaxy 15 has gone off the grid. In April 2010, the spacecraft stopped responding to telecommands. Initial reports blamed solar storms, but the company later found that an electrostatic discharge caused a corruption in the satellite. It took around 11 months before Galaxy 15 resumed supplying its service to the WAAS aircraft navigation system, and 18 months altogether before the satellite fully returned to normal services, according to data from Seradata SpaceTrak.
The operator is working on recovering the satellite and said its customers could expect to “have service continuity” until a replacement satellite, Galaxy 33, is set up in November following its planned launch by SpaceX in October.