New garbage in geostationary orbit: the destruction of Telcom-1 and AMC-9

On August 26, Indonesian telecom operator PT Telecom reported an anomaly to its satellite Telkom 1. Company officials said they were expecting satellite contractor Lockheed Martin to restore contact with the satellite and transfer customers to reserve capacity as a precaution. However, the reality turned out to be worse - the network of telescopes of ExoAnalytic Solutions recorded the destruction of the satellite with the release of two jets of liquid or gas and several large fragments.

In recent months, this is already the second time that a satellite has been destroyed in geostationary orbit — on June 17, communication was lost with the AMC-9 satellite, from which several fragments separated after some time. However, it was possible to restore contact with him and even partially return to work. In geostationary orbit, there has long been a shortage of space, and the new garbage will create more and more problems.

Telkom 1 in flight, drawing Lockheed Martin

Telkom 1 satellite was launched in the summer of 1999 and already exceeded the estimated fifteen-year service life by three years. The development company, Lockheed Martin, believed that it could work until 2019, and the operator, PT Telecom, was going to replace the satellite with a new Telkom 4, which is scheduled to launch in 2018. Alas, on August 25, satellite antennas lost guidance to Earth. PT Telecom quickly transferred power to other satellites, but some problems with ATMs and payment terminals in Indonesia did arise. Meanwhile, a third company, ExoAnalytic Solutions, which processes the data of 165 telescopes, has published a video on the destruction of Telkom 1.

The objects running in the background are stars. The video clearly distinguishes the release of liquid or gas in two directions and at least three noticeable debris. Changing the brightness of the satellite suggests that it began to rotate. Measurements of the satellite orbit elements confirmed the fact of serious problems - the satellite in the standard geostationary orbit began to descend from it - its apocentre (highest point of the orbit) increased by 44 km, the orbit inclination increased by one hundredth degree, and now the satellite is slowly drifting in a westerly direction .

Changes in orbital parameters, source: CalSky

What exactly collapsed on the satellite is impossible to know without restoring communication with it, but obviously, at least one of the tanks (fuel, oxidizer, pressurization gas) lost its integrity, tearing some elements off the structure. Telkom 1 is built on the popular A2100 platform, carrying 24 transponders in the C-band and 12 in the extended C-band. The initial mass of the satellite (with fuel) was 2765 kg.

Scheme platform A2100, source:

Despite the obvious serious damage, there is a chance to restore the connection. On July 17, communication with the AMC-9 satellite was lost, several days later, debris flying away from him were noticed, and, nevertheless, on August 1, the connection with it was restored. Alas, it was not reported that it was possible to establish exactly which elements fell off from the satellite.

The same company ExoAnalytic Solutions provided satellite video fragmentation.

It is very clearly seen how the satellite drifts relative to working satellites at another point of standing. In the background you can even see the open star cluster.

However, the presence of communication with the satellite AMC-9 does not mean that they can be fully managed. Usually, after the end of their life, geostationary satellites send 200-300 km above the geostationary orbit, where they will not interfere with anyone. Alas, suddenly broken satellites remain in place and begin to drift, potentially posing a danger to other satellites. Uncontrolled satellite in geostationary orbit due to the uneven gravitational field of the Earth, the effects of the Sun and the Moon, changes its orbit so that it shifts to one of the points of stable equilibrium, and its inclination increases to 15 °. If you look at the orbits of long-broken satellites, it is noticeable that they are tilted.

Soviet satellites Ekran, source:

Today, more than 440 satellites are in geostationary orbit, and there is much more debris. On the one hand, there is enough free space on it (not taking into account the points of standing, there is just a shortage of them), and in a sense it “self-cleans”. On the other hand, this garbage will not go anywhere from the vicinity of the geostationary orbit - unlike low near-earth, here satellites can exist for millennia. Alive satellites already have to track the garbage and dodge it. Kessler's syndrome, as it is shown in Gravity, is not threatened by geostationary orbit, but the question remains whether mankind can litter it to serious problems with use. However, when in the not-so-near future the garbage becomes too much, there can be a positive possibility of processing old broken satellites into something useful for new ones.


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