A DirecTV satellite has suffered a ‘major anomaly’ that has put its batteries at risk of exploding, according to a document recently published by the FCC. The company is working on decommissioning the satellite in order to get it out of orbit before the batteries burst, which would jeopardize other satellites.
Details about the matter were recently spied in an FCC document that details the saga of Spaceway-1, a Boeing-made satellite used by satellite television provider DirecTV. This aged model has been in operation for around 15 years; it’s quite heavy with a weight of around 2,700lbs and a lifespan that has lasted three years longer than initially expected.
As explained by the FCC, the satellite suffered some type of ‘major anomaly’ that caused ‘significant and irreversible thermal damage to its batteries.’ These batteries are now at risk of exploding, at least according to Boeing experts who reviewed the matter. DirecTV has ceased its payload operations involving the satellite, which is currently operating off just enough solar power to avoid using the batteries.
That solar power usage is obviously only possible when there is sunlight available, however. The FCC says that using the batteries during periods of darkness is ‘unavoidable,’ paving the way for ‘catastrophic battery failure.’ Before that happens, it is ‘urgent’ to decommission the Spaceway-1 satellite and get it completely out of its orbit before February 25 when the next eclipse season will start.
It will take around 21 days for the satellite to reach its ‘disposal orbit,’ leaving a full week for venting of its bipropellant before being decommissioned (there’s about 73kg on board at this time). DirecTV is seeking a waiver from the FCC that would allow it to bypass the rule about discharging the remaining propellant after the satellite is de-orbited because there won’t be enough time before the eclipse season starts. This waiver is possible in cases where there is ‘good cause’ and ‘special circumstances’ that make it necessary.
AT&T has reached out with the following statement:
This satellite is a backup and we do not anticipate any impacts on consumer service as we retire it. We are replacing it with another satellite in our fleet.