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

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Intelsat on May 10 said it will give ground teams another week or so to try to shake free a stuck antenna on the New Dawn satellite before abandoning the effort in order to deploy the satellite’s other reflector antenna, which they assume will function normally.

Intelsat Chief Executive David McGlade said the company, along with satellite manufacturer Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., has been “working day and night” on maneuvers intended to use relatively sudden movements of the satellite, and exposure to temperature extremes, to free the reflector, which directs the satellite’s C-band payload of 28 transponders.

More than a week after the effort began, the antenna remains stuck in the same position, folded against the satellite as it was for launch, despite the apparently successful release of pins that are intended to hold the antenna close to the satellite’s body. Why the antenna did not spring loose on ejection of the pins remains a mystery.

Gently shaking the satellite, and orienting it in such a way as to expose the stuck antenna to the sun’s heat, will be harder to do once the reflector on the other side of the satellite, which directs the Ku-band payload of 24 transponders, is deployed.

But every week that the Ku-band reflector is left in folded position is a week’s revenue from it that is lost.

In a May 10 conference call with investors, McGlade said Luxembourg- and Washington-based Intelsat would give recovery teams another week before proceeding with deployment of the Ku-band antenna. At that point Intelsat will need to negotiate with its insurers on a claim for partial loss. McGlade said the satellite’s solar arrays have deployed normally and that the spacecraft is in good health except for the stuck antenna.

The New Dawn glitch is the second major problem with an Intelsat-owned, Orbital-built satellite in 12 months. The Galaxy 15 satellite in April 2010 stopped responding to ground commands and began an uncontrolled drift along the geostationary arc, posing a signal-interference threat to other C-band satellites. It took eight months for Intelsat and Orbital to regain control of the satellite, which has now been returned to Intelsat’s fleet as an in-orbit spare. Galaxy 15 was the first major anomaly on an Orbital-built commercial telecommunications satellite.

The New Dawn satellite was placed into geostationary transfer orbit on April 22 following successful launch aboard a European Ariane 5 ECA rocket. Since then, Orbital Sciences has been overseeing the transfer of the satellite from the transfer-orbit point where it was released by the rocket to its test location, at 23.1 degrees east longitude in geostationary orbit. The satellite’s final operating location is 32.8 degrees east, where it is scheduled to serve mainly African customers.

Intelsat New Dawn is owned by a joint venture of Luxembourg- and Washington-based Intelsat and Convergence Partners of South Africa. Valued at $250 million including the satellite’s construction, launch and insurance, Intelsat New Dawn is intended to replace Intelsat’s Galaxy 11 satellite at 32.8 degrees east. Intelsat estimates that Galaxy 11 will remain operational until April 2015.

 

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