On 27 June, 2017, SES, a satellite and ground communications service provider announced that a serious anomaly had affected the AMC-9 satellite that it operated. The AMC-9 was a communications satellite, and the traffic routed through the satellite was transferred to other satellites in the SES fleet. There was minimal disruptions in the services to the end users. SES then started monitoring the satellite closely to identify the source of the anomaly, and exploring options for recovering the satellite.
SES approached ExoAnalytic Solutions, a company that specialises in situational space awareness. The company uses a global network of telescopes to track man made and natural objects in space, and can identify any threat to assets in orbit around the Earth. ExoAnalytic Solutions told Ars Technica that the AMC-9 satellite was disintegrating, and that several pieces had broken off the main body of the satellite. The satellite was also drifting out of its orbit.
The fear is that such an event could start a chain reaction of collisions. The geosynchronous orbit used by the AMC-9 satellite is one of the most popular orbits used by satellites, and is densely populated with other satellites. A catastrophic series of collisions of spacecraft and satellite, as seen in the movie Gravity is known as the Kessler syndrome. The chances of a chain reaction from a disintegrating AMC-9 are low. NASA and the US department of defence are both tracking over 17,000 individual pieces of debris circling around the Earth at high speeds.
Scientists and researchers around the world are working on innovative ways the pieces of debris and dead satellites in orbit. The Japanese space agency, JAXA tried to use a cable tug with the Kounotori-6 spacecraft, an attempt that failed when the tug failed to deploy. Satellties launched by ISRO's PSLV-C38 mission have technologies for safely deorbiting the satellites. The American D-Sat from D-Orbit has a miniature rocket to deorbit a satellite, while the Inflatesail and the URSA MAIOR will both attempt to use a dragsail to deorbit safely. Researchers from Stanford have developed a gripper inspired by the feet of lizards to capture satellites and debris in orbit.
Updated Date: Jul 03, 2017 16:16 PM