UPDATED APRIL 9 WITH FULLER INTESAT STATEMENT: Intelsat says two events, one April 7 and another April 9, have caused the outage.
PARIS — The Intelsat 29e satellite, in service for just three years, has suffered a fuel leak that put the satellite into a slow tumble and force the shutdown of its communications payload, industry officials said.
The satellite, which is part of Intelsat’s Epic-class fleet of spacecraft carrying high-throughput-capacity (HTS) Ku-band, covers both North and South America and has HTS coverage over the North Atlantic for maritime and aeronautical broadband coverage. It operates from 50 degrees west in geostationary orbit.
One industry official, admitting only limited knowledge, said it appeared likely that Intelsat and the satellite’s manufacturer, Boeing Satellite Systems International, would be able to stop the tumble and return IS-29e to stable pointing mode. But a loss in the expected service life of 15 years is all but certain.
Officials said the satellite was insured for launch plus limited in-orbit operations but now carries no insurance cover.
In response to Space Intel Report queries, Intelsat issued the following statement on April 9:
“Our Intelsat 29e satellite recently suffered an anomaly in the propulsion system that caused the satellite to lose Earth-lock. As designed, once earth lock is lost, the safety systems on the satellite system take over and shut down the communications payload.
“As a result, our customers are currently experiencing an interruption in service. We have been in direct and active communications with all impacted customers to identify and implement service restoration plans. We are working closely with the satellite manufacturer, Boeing, to quickly resolve this issue and get our customers back on line as quickly as possible.”
Intelsat issued a public statement that refers to two separate events that led to the loss of communications but without specifying what damage caused the initial fuel leak:
“Late on 7 April, the Intelsat 29e propulsion system experienced damage that caused a leak of the propellant on board the satellite resulting in a service disruption to customers on the satellite. While working to restore the services, on 9 April, the satellite experienced a second anomaly that caused a loss of communications to the satellite. Communication with the satellite has been intermittent. Intelsat continues to work with the satellite’s manufacturer, Boeing, on recovering communication. The Intelsat customer-facing team is focused on migrating customer services from Intelsat 29e to other Intelsat satellites serving the region, as well as third party services.
Intelsat has a large fleet and likely will be able to shift customers to other Intelsat-operated satellites, but the company is also using third-party satellites. In particular, Intelsat’s IS-32e, launched in February 2017, has coverage designed to provide backup for IS-29e. It is located 7 degrees away, at 43 degrees west.