A solar storm that smashed into Earth on April 5 went largely unnoticed by most of us down here on the planet, but a group of engineers at satellite maker Orbital Sciences Corp. have been thinking about it ever since. That's the day Galaxy 15, one of their satellites owned by Intelsat, went radio silent. The satellite is still functioning, going about its daily chores of relaying signals around the globe, but Galaxy 15 is ignoring all commands from handlers on Earth, leading engineers to dub the renegade satellite a "zombiesat."
Satellites break down from time to time, and Galaxy 15 is by no means the only satellite adrift in orbit. But it is the first case where the satellite is still functioning after breaking off communications with Earth, which presents something of a problem.
Galaxy 15 isn't much of a collision threat to other satellites -- despite the regular hemming and hawing about space junk, there's still a ridiculous amount of empty space in our sky -- but because the satellite is still functioning it could interfere with other satellites in its neighborhood. On Monday, controllers beamed a powerful signal to Galaxy 15, not with the aim of regaining control, but simply in hopes of turning it off before it becomes an orbiting headache for other satellites. Galaxy 15's response: nothing.
So what happens next? If engineers can't devise a way to either regain control or power down Galaxy 15, it will most likely join legions of other defunct satellites at one of two points in the sky where adrift zombiesats gather due to irregularities in Earth's magnetic field. There are already about 200 objects hanging around these libration points, which are located at longitudes 105 degrees west and 75 degrees east.
Then, as with all satellites that go rogue, Galaxy 15's orbit will slowly decay over time until it meets a fantastic end while crashing through the atmosphere at breakneck speed. That's cool to visualize, but not at all what Intelsat or Orbital Sciences had in mind for the satellite. For satellite makers and operators, those enhanced solar weather models informed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory can't get here soon enough.
zombiesat eats your brainz from space
You know, call me ridiculous, but I think that everything we ship off into space needs to be recuperated in some way or another, because despite the seemingly infinitely insignificant effect a little satellite's weight has on the earth, if we keep sending more and more things off into space for the next 5000 years we could end up altering our orbit. I know it sounds far fetched, but it's the kind of thing we'll have to consider if we ever start having serious space trafic/resource gathering from other planets, maintaining the earth's weight will be a tricky thing.
The sun is stealing our satellites for some evil purpose
I've been pondering the same thing. Hmm...
I doubt the relative minuscule weight of satellites and things will significantly enough lower the mass of the earth to the point it alters the orbit. I'm more concerned about us sending out into space valuable materials which we can never retrieve again. All that silicon and perhaps various types of rare-earth elements just wasted.
@ the above comments in 5000 years the wieght we send out will not matter because we will hopefully be recieving goods from other extraterrestial sources.
Simple explanation the radiation and emp pulses from the storm fried the the satellite's ability to communicate with home base but it still had it's primary commands so it continued on it's normal course.
I got to admit some of yous are just weirdos get a grip okay face reality not fantasy
No problem! We'll just send the shuttle up to retrieve it sometime. Huh? Oh... Never mind!
the antenna used for communications with earth probably wasnt heavily shielded, and it got fried like blindinglight said.
\i would go up there and be an orbital garbageman. somebody has to do it, and just think of all the cool stuff you would be collecting up there, instead of letting it get smashed in space or vaporized on its fall to earth.
then i would hack them all together and make the first WifiSat. of course i would bring a wireless router from earth but it would have scavenged solar cells, batteries, antenna, etc. but of course it would be useless for now. i didnt initially think of this, but wireless routers get their internet from the ethernet cable..
what i meant though, was like a signal repeater, and earth beams the internet up, it goes through the repeater satellites to the astronauts, then back through repeaters and down to the earth station.
that would still have terrible ping wouldnt it?
oh yeah...i can hear obama now..what? we need the shuttle to do what? help control the debris up in near/low earth orbit? ..no i dont think so..lets send anothe robot to mars..or the moon..that way we dont have to send humans into space..so much better dont you think?
such short sightedness and stupidity, and yes..we need to have a way to bring these things back down instead of just letting them collect up there as junk
Why is anyone referencing the shuttle program in the comments here? Perhaps the article didn't make it clear, but AMC15 is in geostationary orbit, which is 22,000 miles high. The shuttle, and all other Low Earth Orbit (LEO) spacecraft, operate in the range of 400-900 miles high. The shuttle program has never flown anywhere near that far from earth, nor any other manned flights since the moon missions. It is not qualified to leave LEO.
Additionally, there is nothing (no atmospheric drag) to decay the orbit in GEO like there is for LEO spacecraft, so AMC15 will in fact remain at its Lagrange point. All GEO spacecraft, when they reach the end of their service life, are sent about 300 miles higher than GEO, known as a parking orbit or graveyard orbit - where no interference can occur. With no ability to command AMC15, it will not get out there.