Spaceflight Insider

As space debris concerns grow, AMC-9 satellite appears to be adding to the problem

AMC-9: Space debris in orbit above Earth European Space Agency image

Image Credit: ESA

Ever since the start of the Space Age in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik, humanity has left an ever-increasing amount of debris in orbit. The fact that, until recently, almost all launch vehicles were completely disposable. Even the satellites and probes sent aloft by those rockets end up adding even more high-tech garbage to endlessly conduct orbits around our world. However, not all of this debris harmlessly retraces arcs above Earth – as the AMC-9 satellite is currently demonstrating.

Luxembourg-based SES stated that it had regained communications with the satellite in a release issued by the company on June 29.

AMC-9: NASA image taken from the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

The International Space Station has been struck by debris. Parts of the station have been in orbit since 1998. Photo Credit: NASA

According to SES, services provided by the satellite were restored under a restoration capacity plan designed to minimize the impact felt by customers on the ground just a day after they were lost on Saturday, June 17.

“The AMC-9 restoration strategy demonstrates one of the many benefits of working with a satellite operator with a large global fleet,” Anand Chari, Gogo Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer said via an SES-issued release. “All networks, satellite and terrestrial, can occasionally suffer such rare mishaps. SES’s ability to recover so quickly and effectively is a compelling testament to the size and flexibility of its fleet, the professionalism of its people, and the operational processes in place to ensure the resiliency needed to keep businesses, such as Gogo, running seamlessly.”

AMC-9 was constructed by Thales and is working with SES to determine what caused the problem as well as ways in which the satellite might continue to provide services. The loss of services has been estimated at costing SES approximately $22,697,700 dollars (€20 million); this includes the possible reduction in fleet transponders for future commercialization efforts.

A report appearing on Ars Technica noted that at least two, and likely more, parts were tracked in AMC-9’s vicinity. In the days that followed, several pieces of the satellite were seen coming off of the spacecraft. The two most likely scenarios for this would either be an internal malfunction which led to an explosive event or it was struck by something. Given the sheer volume of debris orbiting our world? Such events have become more and more likely.

It can be said that humanity has not done a very good job as steward of Earth, and that messy nature appears to be expanding into the high frontier.

AMC-9 was launched atop a Proton-M rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome’s Site 200 back in 2003 and was lofted with a planned design life of some 15 years. The spacecraft orbits at an altitude of some 22,369 miles (36,000 km). In so doing, AMC-9 could maintain its position over its area of responsibility.

In the grand scheme of things, however, this is nothing compared to the greater risk that space debris poses. At present, estimates place some 500,000 pieces of debris in orbit above our homeworld. An array of possible solutions have been started but, as of yet, no viable systems have been put into operation. These man-made objects range in size and composition from paint chips a half inch in width (1.27 centimeters) to parts and pieces of rockets, spacecraft, and satellites. One of the more famous pieces of orbital debris is NASA astronaut Ed White’s glove that floated out of his Gemini IV capsule in 1965. These are tracked by the Department of Defense’s U.S. Space Surveillance Network.

Video courtesy of Eric Berger, ExoAnalytics

 

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Space junk will eventually end human space travel. We will be in a planetary prison.

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