Satellite Dodge: how a dead satellite is causing issues for TV satellites

UPDATED | A satellite that in the past week has been declared "dead" is likely to cause issues for other TV satellites as it drifts eastwards.

Amos 5, operated by Spacecom, suffered major electrical problems in November, resulting in the loss of the satellite, which was finally given up on in the past week. Without any control over the satellite, it can't be booted off into the so-called graveyard orbit out of the way of operational satellites.

Since then, the satellite, originally geo-stationery at 17 degrees East, has been moving slowly eastwards (in relation to the earth) along the satellite arc. Now it's reached 19 degrees East, and is closing in on the Astra 1 satellite cluster - previously used by Sky's UK analogue service, now carrying mostly German and French digital TV and radio stations.

Reports over the weekend said that SES-operated Astra 1L was conducting a manoeuvre to avoid the dead satellite, although sources have now denied this. Satellite tracking website NY2O shows Amos 5 at 19.08 degrees East as of Monday 18th January, just 0.12 degrees away from the Astra 1 cluster with just a marginal difference in altitude.

Fortunately, what often counts as a close encounter in space can often still involve considerable distances from our point of view, and since it's been possible to precisely track Amos 5's drift in space; no TV or radio services from Astra at 19.2 degrees East are likely to be affected, and any manoeuvre to avoid Amos 5 is unlikely to affect reception.

Should Amos 5 continue drifting slowly uncontrolled eastwards, it will in the months to come encounter the Astra 3 cluster, at 23 degrees East, the orbital position used for Dutch TV and some Eastern European services, before bothering Badr 5 at 26 degrees East and then the UK/Irish satellite TV position (Astra 2) at 28 degrees East.

It will however take some time at the current rate - it's drifting around 0.05 degrees per day. At least satellite operators have plenty of time to prepare: accidents in space are very expensive...

  • This was updated at 15:18 on 18/01/2016

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  1. Does this "eastwards drift" mean that it will eventually drift off into oblivion or is it likely to go into orbit and cause a perennial problem for other satellites?

  2. By definition it is in orbit, it does not have Earth escape velocity. But it is no longer in it's previous geo-stationary orbit. It will continue in it's current orbit, modified by whatever thrust it may be getting (solar radiation pressure on the spacecraft and solar panels, asymmetric thermal radiation, leaking fuel and thrusters, etc).


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