Glitch Suspends GeoEye-1 Operations

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PARIS — Earth observation services provider GeoEye Inc. on Dec. 17 said its principal asset, the GeoEye-1 satellite, has developed a glitch in its antenna-pointing system that could affect the operations of the company’s overseas partners but will not diminish GeoEye’s ability to serve its biggest customer, the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Dulles, Va.-based GeoEye said it discovered the problem Dec. 11 and had shut down GeoEye-1 operations “for the last few days” to investigate the issue. If not corrected, it could reduce the company’s total revenue by up to 10 percent for the fourth quarter of 2009 and for all of 2010.

GeoEye spokesman Mark Brender said Dec. 29 that work to correct the problem was still ongoing.

GeoEye told investors in November that its full-year 2009 revenue would be between $275 million and $280 million, and that revenue would increase by 12 to 16 percent in 2010, mainly on the strength of GeoEye-1.

GeoEye-1 was launched in September 2008 and began operations in February. The satellite earlier was found to have a slight defect in certain of its imaging modes, a problem that company officials since have said would have no impact on the satellite’s ability to serve its customers. The earlier problem is apparently unrelated to the latest GeoEye-1 development.

The company said the problem resides inside the equipment that steers the GeoEye-1 antenna to send Earth imagery to ground-reception stations. GeoEye said the antenna’s movement has been restricted, meaning it is unable to perform its image-taking and its image-downlinking functions at the same time.

GeoEye’s four ground stations separate the two functions, and their operation — which have prime responsibility for the company’s NGA services contract — is unaffected by the problem, GeoEye said. Some of GeoEye’s overseas customers operate facilities that combine image gathering and downlinking, and these companies may be the most affected by the glitch.