Intelsat and SES
SSPI honors a satellite operator that forged an unprecedented collaboration with another leading operator to prevent a perfect storm of radio frequency interference over the US domestic arc. On April 5, 2010, the Galaxy 15 C-band spacecraft, operated by Intelsat at 133 degrees west, stopped responding to commands. All other systems remained normal, and so the satellite continued to relay cable TV programming as before. Without telemetry, tracking & control (TT&C), however, the spacecraft started an uncontrolled drift eastwards through the crowded orbital arc, threatening interference with other satellites. The first and last satellites that G-15 would pass belonged to SES. In collaboration with SES, Intelsat developed procedures, customer communication strategies and a unique software utility that together averted disaster.
Intelsat's response team introduced multiple innovations on the fly. To ensure that no broadcast customer would face a loss of service, they arranged temporary turnaround facilities at Intelsat’s Clarksburg and Napa Valley teleports as well as SES’s Sunset Beach facility in Hawaii and used them to downlink any broadcaster whose feed might be interfered with. This required receiving transmissions from multiple satellites at different locations, routing them over fiber and replicating them on a powerful 19-meter antenna at Intelsat Clarksburg normally used for TT&C.
The second path involved "leap-frogging” affected satellites around the rogue G-15 as it passed by, while simultaneously tracking and transmitting to the affected satellite using a pencil beam delivered by the 19m antenna to override any interference. In a delicate ballet in space, Intelsat worked with a series of operators to move their satellites to the outer edge of their "station-keeping boxes" – the invisible rectangles in the sky toward which satellite antennas point – while G-15 flew by. The rogue satellite actually sped up over time, which meant that the pace of flybys accelerated throughout the process. Intelsat's team was able to handle the load thanks to a G-15 Flyby Utility they developed to automate the scheduling and assessment of each flyby.
G-15 crossed nearly the entire US orbital arc before losing power and going into safe mode. Intelsat then began to recover its orbiting asset. Through a complex series of maneuvers, the company was able to completely power down and then restart G-15, and the satellite returned to normal operation. Throughout the nearly year-long crisis, not one network programmer lost transmission, and the extraordinary efforts of Intelsat, SES and other operators won them the respect of customers across America.
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