Zombie Satellite Forces Evasive Maneuvers for Cable TV Spacecraft

Out-of-Control Satellite Threatens Other Nearby Spacecraft
The Galaxy 15 satellite is seen before its 2005 launch to geostationary orbit nearly 36,000 kilometers over the Earth's equator. (Image credit: Orbital Sciences.)

It looks like the rogue zombie satellite Galaxy 15 may not threatenMTV and other cable television programming ?after all. The satellite operatorwith a spacecraft in Galaxy 15's cross-hairs announced plans Monday to sendtheir satellite through a series of "intricate maneuvers" to avoidhaving its signal hijacked.

In the announcement, satellite operator SES World Skies reassuredcustomers that it will move its AMC-11 satellite well clear of the approaching Galaxy15 spacecraft to avoid service interruptions for customers.

The two satellites pose littlerisk of crashing into each other, but Galaxy 15's C-band communications packageis stuck on and could siphon away signals meant for other spacecraft if itstrays too close. The Intelsat-operated Galaxy 15 went rogue on April 5,apparently due to a solar storm, its Virginia-based builder Orbital SciencesCorp., has said.

Several attempts to shutdown Galaxy 15 failed, leaving the so-called "zombiesat" adriftin space with an active electronic payload.

Since Galaxy 15 is now nearing AMC-11's orbital location at131 degrees west, SES World Skies plans to maneuver its spacecraft to match theeastward drift of zombie satellite instead. That should maintain a minimumdistance of separation between the two satellites.

This synchronized drift is designed to protect AMC-11services from interference that could be caused by the wayward Galaxy 15.

AMC-11 is part of a fleet of communications satellite thatbeam cable programming across the United States, Canada, Caribbean and Mexico.They also relay HDTV programming for NBC, Discovery, Scripps, Comcast, MTV andiNDemand networks, according to an SES World Skies description.

The company will simultaneously move a new satellite, SES-1,to the opposite side of Galaxy 15, enabling some customers, including several cabletelevision networks, to leapfrog their broadcasts over any potential interruptionin service.

Customers will either be able to maintain services on AMC-11during its repositioned drift, or re-point antennas to the new SES-1 in orderto maintain the quality of their services.

For customers who stay on AMC-11 throughout the maneuver,their television programming will be delivered over a large, 19-meter antennacapable of minimizing potential disruptions.

SES World Skies expects to begin the synchronized eastwarddrift of AMC-11 on May 25, and estimates that the risk of interference will endon June 7, when the defunct Galaxy15 exits the area located about 22,000 miles (about 35,400 km) above theEarth's surface. ?

"This extraordinary technical initiative underscoresour commitment to finding innovative solutions to minimize the impact of anunexpected event like this on our customers," said Alan Young, ChiefTechnology Officer for SES World Skies. "A team of our best engineers andscientists is working around the clock to ensure the success of thisunprecedented mission."

Young noted that the company has been in regular contactwith its customers in order to fully communicate how best to avoid disruptionsin service.

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Space.com Staff
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