A Boeing-made satellite that is owned by AT&T’s DirecTV and operated by Intelsat suffered damage to its batteries in December, according to recent reports. The damage was not insignificant and the satellite is now at risk of exploding.
This information came to light recently when DirecTV had to disclose the issue to the Federal Communications Commision (FCC) in a request to remove the satellite from orbit in order to begin repairs.
According to the filing, “Spaceway-1 suffered a major anomaly that resulted in significant and irreversible thermal damage to its batteries…There is a significant risk that these battery cells could burst.”
CNBC reached out to Boeing for a comment and the company made it very clear that this damage is an anomaly. “The battery malfunction occurred in the course of beyond-contract-life operation after a collection of events that have a very low likelihood of occurring on other satellites,” said Boeing.
As with all operations in space, the timetables are very tricky. The satellite can no longer rely on its batteries, so it is currently continuing to operate using solar power. However, the satellite will pass into Earth’s shadow on February 25. The satellite must be taken out of orbit before that time or it will lose power and eventually crash back into the planet.
The satellite was first put into orbit back in 2005 with an expected life span of 12 years. Since the satellite has already exceeded its expected lifespan, AT&T has said that they plan on retiring the satellite and replacing it with a newer model to avoid any more issues. Luckily, the company has made it clear that there will be no impact to their DirecTV service while the satellite is being retired.