In late 2008,, concerned that an approaching Russian satellite might pose a hazard during a scheduled maneuver of one of its own craft, requested precise orbital conjunction data from the U.S. Air Force-led Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC) so it could decide whether to cancel or modify its plans.
According to Intelsat, the JSPOC balked, leaving the company to its own devices in deciding a course of action. In the end there was no collision — Intelsat never made clear whether it went through with the maneuver — but the episode illustrates the growing problem of congestion in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the equator, the operating location of most communications satellites.
As the name implies, geostationary satellites hold their position relative to Earth and to one another. But satellites that fail before they can be boosted into so-called graveyard orbits will drift along the geostationary arc, posing a potential threat to others in their path, while operators frequently move their spacecraft to different locations for various reasons. Radio frequency interference is another by product of congestion.
In October,, Intelsat and founded the international Space Data Association (SDA) to facilitate data sharing among satellite operators to reduce the chance of collisions, interference and to improve satellite communications in general. The nonprofit SDA relies on publicly available orbital-location data and member-provided information, some of it competition sensitive.
Richard DalBello, vice president of government relations at Intelsat General, makes this year’s list for spearheading efforts to establish what should become an indispensable resource for the industry.
SDA membership is open to all satellite operators, although to date only the founding members — which between them account for more than 40 percent of the world’s commercial geostationary satellites — are on board. Initial operations of the Space Data Center, which is responsible for providing the SDA’s data management and analytical functions, began in July.