PARIS — The Intelsat New Dawn satellite, whose C-band reflector antenna has remained stuck in folded position since the satellite’s April 22 launch, also had trouble deploying its Ku-band antenna, a glitch that may offer valuable clues to the board of inquiry looking into the problem, industry officials said.

While the Ku-band antenna eventually was deployed the week of May 23, it took hours longer than planned as ground teams overcame an initial resistance that resembled what happened several weeks earlier with the C-band reflector, officials said.

“They got it deployed — eventually,” said one industry official, referring to the initial difficulties in the Ku-band antenna’s release. “The problem appears to be more than an issue unique to that one C-band antenna.”

In a June 2 response to Space News inquiries, Washington- and Luxembourg-based Intelsat confirmed that there were issues with the Ku-band antenna’s deployment. The similarities could help in the investigation into what happened on the C-band antenna, which is now viewed as likely to remain useless, depriving the satellite of half its broadcasting payload and a yet-undetermined percentage of its planned 15-year service life.

“The two antenna deployment ‘outcomes’ appear to be related,” Intelsat said in its statement. “The investigation team will issue a report when it has completed its work.  The satellite is operating nominally in all other respects and customer traffic is already transitioning to the satellite.”

New Dawn was built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski June 2 said the company would decline comment on the situation.

New Dawn’s broadcast payload is delivered through two elliptical reflector antennas, each measuring 2.5 meters by 2.7 meters. One is linked to the C-band payload, the other to the Ku-band transponders.

Intelsat said the C-band antenna, whose deployment was planned soon after New Dawn arrived at its test location in orbit, successfully released a series of pins holding the antenna to the satellite’s body. But for reasons still unknown, the spring mechanism that should have released the antenna did not function.

Intelsat held off on deploying the Ku-band antenna for several weeks as it tried gently shaking the satellite, and exposing the stuck reflector to heat and cold, in an effort to deploy it. Those efforts, which while ongoing prevented the satellite’s entry into commercial service, were abandoned the week of May 23, at which time the Ku-band antenna was deployed.

Satellite antennas and solar arrays are stowed for launch to minimize the satellite’s volume as it is placed under a rocket’s fairing for launch. There are several types of antenna-release mechanisms on satellites, including spring-loaded and motor-driven deployment systems.   

Intelsat New Dawn now has full utilization of its 16 Ku-band transponders — 24 Ku-band transponders when measured in 36-megahertz equivalence — through the reflector antenna. The satellite is operating from its intended post at 32.8 degrees east in geostationary orbit.

With the C-band antenna and its 28 36-megahertz transponders now viewed as definitively out of service, New Dawn — owned by a joint venture of Intelsat and Convergence Partners of South Africa — will be limited to no more than half its intended role. New Dawn was scheduled to replace Intelsat’s Galaxy 11 satellite at that orbital slot. Intelsat has said Galaxy 11 has enough fuel to continue operating until April 2015.

Intelsat New Dawn was valued at $250 million including its construction, launch and insurance for its first year in orbit.

In addition to being deprived of half its broadcasting capability, New Dawn may see its planned 15-year lifespan curtailed. A satellite is designed to fly in orbit with its solar arrays and broadcast antennas fully deployed. The placement of its thruster engines and the size of its fuel reservoir are optimized for a satellite in full-deployment configuration. With one of the two broadcast antennas stuck against the satellite’s body, New Dawn likely will require more fuel to maintain its stabilization in orbit, reducing its operating life.

The extent of the reduction to in-orbit service life is unknown and will likely be the subject of detailed discussions between New Dawn’s owners and the insurance underwriters that will be asked to pay what is all but certain to be a claim exceeding $150 million.


Intelsat Gives Team Another Week To Free Satellite’s Stuck Antenna

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.