SES trying to retire AMC-9, uncertain on debris origin

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WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator SES says it will retire the malfunctioning AMC-9 satellite a year early if it can regain control of the spacecraft.

SES spokesperson Markus Payer told SpaceNews Aug. 4 that SES and AMC-9’s manufacturer Thales Alenia Space are continuing to investigate the cause of the June 17 anomaly “with the focus on keeping the spacecraft in a stable and safe mode and working on retiring it.”

The company has also not been able to confirm if debris spotted in the satellite’s vicinity broke off from the spacecraft or originated elsewhere.

“That takes its time,”he said. “We cannot say where the debris comes from and can definitely not confirm that it comes from the spacecraft.”

AMC-9 launched in 2003 on a Russian Proton rocket, and had been providing telecommunications services to North America for 14 years. Retiring the satellite this year would shave one year off the intended 15-year life throughout which the satellite was expected to function nominally.

SES reported a 38.4 million euro ($45.1 million) impairment charge for AMC-9 when tallying revenue for the first half of 2017, ending June 30. The operator used other spacecraft in its fleet of around 50 geostationary satellites to fill the gap for customers who had been using AMC-9.

In July, SES said another of its satellites, the 19-year old NSS-806, lost 12 of its 34 transponders. The company said additional fleet planning and the introduction of SES-14, a C- and Ku-band satellite from Airbus Defence and Space, will reduce the impact from anomalies on both satellites after launching on a SpaceX Falcon 9 in the first quarter of next year.