The request was filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as it encountered a ‘major anomaly that resulted in significant and irreversible thermal damage to its batteries’ back in December of 2019.
If the satellite recharges its batteries, it could explode, which would subject all the other probes in orbit to crashes with harmful pieces of debris. Such clashes could generate even more space waste, which is a main concern for companies all over the world.
DirecTV operators requested the FCC for permission to move the Spaceway-1 satellite to a safer orbit, also known as ‘graveyard orbit,’ approximately 180 miles (290 kilometers) above its current location, in order to manage the ‘heightened likelihood o catastrophic failure.’
The Dangers of an Explosion in Orbit
DirecTV has to reach a harsh deadline to move and disarm the potential explosive bomb in space. Spaceway-1 is at the moment on Earth‘s sunny side, which can help it depend on its solar panels for power, leaving the explosive batteries unruffled.
The satellite will enter Earth‘s dark side on February 25th, which starts a period known as the eclipse season that restricts reliance on solar power. The probe will then need to be moved to a different orbit by then.
Usually, satellites get ready for disposal by eliminating any leftover propellant in their fuel tanks, a procedure that can take a few months. The FCC said it would enable DirecTV to discard only 160 pounds of fuel on the probe, so that is can make the deadline.
These kinds of runaround practices are required to avoid the collision of satellites into each other, which would be a fatal event that would expel harmful debris into crowded orbits. The ultimate trouble is a speculative scenario known as the ‘Kessler effect,’ in which crash waste starts off a rainfall of increasing damage to other satellites, potentially getting entire orbits volatile.