Boeing
Graveyard Orbit

This Boeing Satellite May Be About to Explode

byVictor Tangermann
1. 24. 20
Boeing

If it blows up, it could send a devastating cascade of shrapnel into orbit.

Satellite Explosion

AT&T-owned satellite TV company DirecTV has asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permission to “conduct emergency operations” to move a satellite that may be about to blow up, Space News reports.

The fear is that a battery malfunction might cause the Boeing-built satellite to explode. An explosion in an already-busy orbit chock full of other satellites could spell disaster in the form of a devastating cascade of orbital shrapnel.

Just Venting

In a request to the FCC filed on January 19, the company said that once sunlight is no longer available for solar charging starting February 25, the satellite will have to resort to using its damaged batteries — risking a “catastrophic battery failure.”

The FCC requires all licensed satellite owners to vent onboard propellant — thereby reducing chances of an explosion — before moving satellites into what’s called the “graveyard orbit,” an altitude above operational satellite orbit where companies dispose of their junk, according to Space News.

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Graveyard Orbit

The problem is that DirecTV has only one month to vent its propellant — a process that typically requires at least two to three months, according to the FCC filing.

Therefore, DirecTV is asking the agency “for special temporary authority to de-orbit the Spaceway-1satellite and for a waiver of the fuel venting requirement.”

READ MORE: DirecTV fears explosion risk from satellite with damaged battery [Space News]

More on satellites: Experts Call for System Preventing Satellite Collisions

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