DirecTV has obtained permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adjust its malfunctioning communications satellite as soon as possible to avoid a serious space accident caused by an explosion. The Spaceway-1 live satellite, made by Boeing, suffered a “major anomaly” last month that caused severe thermal damage to its batteries and must now be moved to orbits that were not harmful to other spacecraft.
Space debris around the earth is a growing danger, and in recent years a great deal of work has been done to clean up damaged useless satellites while minimizing the generation of more debris. This includes building stronger spacecraft that do not drop debris, and ensuring that damaged satellites are properly treated before they are threatened.
Spaceway-1, 13,400 pounds (6,080 kg) in a geosynchronous orbit 35,800 kilometers (22,200 miles) above the Earth’s equator, was destroyed in an unknown incident in December 2019, according to DirecTV’s filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Boeing engineers examined satellite data and concluded that the 702’s batteries had suffered serious and irreversible damage.
Usually this is not a problem, because Spaceway-1 is solar-powered and has enough capacity to avoid battery use. However, satellites are approaching the regular season of entering the Earth’s shadow. Worryingly, a temporary switch to a battery would put a huge load on the battery, which could cause an explosion, turning spaceway-1 into a high-pitched shrapnel cloud that orbits the Earth.
To prevent this and avoid danger, the communications company will use the remaining fuel on the satellite to move it into a disposal orbit 300 km (190 miles) above its current position and remove excess propellant, which is expected to take 21 days, while propellant emissions will last seven days. All this needs to be done by 21 February.