Our planet is surrounded by space junk that zips around the globe at speeds of up to 25,000 miles per hour. NASA estimates they literally track thousands of debris in the skies. The junk is made up of broken satellites, coolant, rockets and more — and all this junk poses a significant danger to astronauts and working satellites in outer space.
Now another satellite has taken the first step toward becoming yet another piece of space junk. Space.com reports that parent company Intelsat has lost communication with Galaxy 15. Unfortunately, it is still sending out a powerful signal — and experts worry that this signal will disrupt other satellites.
Galaxy 15 is moving along a fairly stable path, and scientists are not worried that it will crash into another space object. However, they are fairly certain that it could infect passing working satellites with its signal. Intelsat is trying to alleviate any signal disturbance the 4171-pound satellite might have. Its signal seems to be “stuck on,” though controllers lost contact with it on April 5, 2010.
Steve Good is Intelsat's global director of customer solutions engineering. As he told Space.com, "Normally when an anomaly occurs, the satellite just stops working and we don't have to worry about it … Galaxy 15 is still operational, so in this case, the satellite is still 'functioning' in a deterministic state. But, we know exactly where it is, we know what it's doing, and we know the settings of the satellite." This may help control exactly how much Galaxy 15 interferes with other objects.
Galaxy 15 is expected to fly near Galaxy 13 and Galaxy 14, two other Intelsat satellites. These two satellites currently provide media service to people in the United States, service that could be disrupted. Intelsat is hoping to nudge 13 and 14 out of the way or to shift antennas so customers will not lose service.
Experts don’t know why they lost power with Galaxy 15. They estimate that it will eventually lose orientation with the Earth, move its solar panels away from the sun and ultimately die off. Or it might just reset itself and come back to life. As Good told Space.com, "Still, there is a chance. It would almost be like a "control-alt-delete" on your computer. It would begin sending telemetry again. It would wake up and realize 'What am I doing here?'"
For further reading:
- Frustration zombie satellite still adrift in space
- Space junk forces astronauts to play orbital dodge ball