A large broadcast satellite built by Boeing has suffered catastrophic damage to its batteries and is now at risk of exploding in orbit over Earth. AT&T-owned DirecTV revealed the issue in a special request to the Federal Communications Commission, asking for permission to remove its Spaceway-1 satellite from orbit.
DirecTV said in statement: “Spaceway-1 suffered a major anomaly that resulted in significant and irreversible thermal damage to its batteries.
“There is a significant risk that these battery cells could burst.”
The satellite is reportedly several years beyond its intended life-span.
Launched 15 years ago, the Boeing 702-model satellite Spaceway-1 is expected to last 12 years.
Boeing said in a statement to CNBC: “The battery malfunction occurred in the course of beyond-contract-life operation after a collection of events that have a very low likelihood of occurring on other satellites.”
But DirecTV is now under pressure, as a Boeing review of the satellite’s data found Spaceway-1s batteries “cannot be guaranteed to withstand the pressures needed to support safe operation of the spacecraft in eclipse operations.”
Spaceway-1 currently relies on solar power but, with the satellite about to pass into Earth’s shadow on February 25, the company said it must immediately be taken out of orbit and decommissioned.
In addition, the satellite should discharge its remaining fuel, the company said, “to reduce the risk of accidental explosion.”
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Barring technical failures, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires licensed satellite operators to vent onboard propellant before moving satellites into the graveyard orbit.
DirecTV told the FCC it could deplete no more than “a nominal portion of the approximately 73 kg of bipropellant remaining” on the satellite.
Venting fuel is a safety measure meant to reduce the risk of a decommissioned satellite exploding.
While similar satellites have needed two to three months to vent their remaining fuel, DirecTV has only one month to passivate Spaceway-1 the best it can while moving it out of the geostationary arc.
Prior to the battery issue, DirecTV had estimated Spaceway-1 had enough onboard fuel to stay in service until 2025.