Friday, April 8, 2011

Beware of zombies in space, 10.22.10

Think we are alone in space? Think again. It turns out there is a “zombie” of sorts orbiting Earth, and it is covered in solar panels. Meet Galaxy 15.

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Galaxy 15 is a C-band telecommunications satellite that “went out of control.” The satellite ceased responding to commands on April 5th and began to drift on its own. The builders of the satellite, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, VA, had expected it to “lose momentum control” by August since it was no longer responding to commands from its operators at Intelsat. They had hoped that it would run out of power and then they would essentially be able to perform a “reset” function on the satellite and resume control over it. If the reset failed, at least it would be out of power and would become just another piece of space junk floating around our planet.

The solar-powered satellite has surpassed its designers’ expectations, however, by actually conserving its own power supplies when it senses a drop in the sunlight it receives. According to Intelsat, it is “continuing to pose headaches” because not only is it not responding to commands, but it is also still transmitting. It has already caused satellite AMC-11 to have to perform evasive maneuvers to avoid having its own signal highjacked by the powerful C-band transmission of Galaxy 15. If it does interfere with the signals of other satellites, it has the power to disturb the transmissions of “HDTV programming for NBC, Discovery, Scripps, Comcast, MTV and iNDEMAND networks.” According to Thronateeska Heritage Center’s museum guide and staff astronomer Jim Friese, the computers on board are completely normal, yet “the satellite is just smart enough to keep itself alive.” He said a failsafe has already been installed in the next generation of satellites to prevent the same problem from occurring.


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