SES’s AMC-9 satellite drifting after anomaly

WASHINGTON — SES is moving customers off a 14-year-old
geostationary communications satellite that’s drifting in orbit
following a “significant anomaly” discovered over the weekend.

“SES has taken immediate action in contacting all
customers and is working to transfer services to alternative
satellite capacity in order to minimize disruption,” the
company said in a June 19 statement.

SES AMC-9 Ku-band North AmericaAMC-9’s Ku-band
footprint for North America. Credit: SES

Most of that traffic is being switched to other SES
satellites, according to SES spokesperson Markus Payer, but
might involve teaming up with other satellite operators where
an SES substitute won’t fit. He declined to say how much
of AMC-9’s capacity was in use at the time of the
anomaly.

Payer described AMC-9’s drift from its 83 degrees west
orbit  as “slow.”

“I can’t say where it is now, but it is moving, yes,”
Payer told
SpaceNews June 19
by telephone. “It is a slow process [and] therefore can be
fully under control, but of course we need to be in touch with
the other operators.”

Payer said SES is sharing location information with other
satellite operators and government agencies involved in
tracking the satellite.

The Luxembourg-based global fleet operator first became
aware of a problem with AMC-9 the morning of June 17 — a
Saturday – and was still assessing the situation two days
later. The Thales Alenia Space-built satellite was launched in
2003 on a Russian Proton rocket.

Payer said SES does not know whether the satellite, which
provides data and broadcast services over the U.S. and Mexico
using C- and Ku-band, can be returned to service. Losing the
satellite would cost SES up to 20 million euros ($22.3 million)
in revenue this year, SES said. The company would also take a
one-off impairment charge of 38 million euros for the lost
asset.

Payer said SES does not intend to make an insurance claim
for any loss of AMC-9. He said all of SES’s satellites are
insured, but declined to say how much coverage it still has for
AMC-9.

AMC-9 was designed to last 15 years, but it is not
uncommon for geostationary satellites to surpass that age and
continue to generate revenue. Last month, SES relocated AMC-4,
an 18-year old satellite, to cover flight routes for inflight
connectivity provider Gogo, and sold all the capacity on AMC-3,
a 20-year-old satellite, to Global Eagle Entertainment in
January.