Solar array issue jeopardizes new Eutelsat satellite

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WASHINGTON — A Eutelsat Communications satellite launched two weeks ago is experiencing an issue with one of its two solar arrays, Eutelsat said Oct. 24. 

Eutelsat said it is still working to understand what impact the power problem may have on the Eutelsat 5 West B satellite, a Northrop Grumman-built spacecraft meant to replace the 17-year-old Eutelsat-5 West A satellite over Europe and Northern Africa. 

Eutelsat 5 West A, one of Eutelsat’s fleet of around 40 geostationary satellites, generated roughly 30 million euros ($33.3 million) in revenue last year, Eutelsat said. Its replacement, Eutelsat 5 West B is “fully insured against the eventuality of loss,” Eutelsat said. 

Solar power problems can impair or fully disable a satellite depending on their severity. For example, Europe’s Sentinel-1A imaging satellite remains in service after a space debris strike in 2016 caused what the European Space Agency described as a “small power reduction.” APT Satellite of Hong Kong removed a 13-year-old satellite from service last year after a partial solar power loss.

An industry source said Eutelsat 5 West B is insured for 173 million euros. If Eutelsat submits a claim, it would be the space industry’s third big insurance claim of 2019, following the 368.3 million euro Vega launch failure in July that destroyed the UAE’s Falcon Eye imaging satellite, and the August post-launch failure of China Satcom’s ChinaSat-18 satellite. 

Eutelsat spokesperson Marie-Sophie Ecuer could not be reached for comment by press time.