Solar storm creates killer "zombie satellite"

A solar storm semi-nuked the Intelsat's Galaxy 15 satellite last month, enough so that it's not talking to Earth but it also isn't completely dead. So now it's wandering around the geostationary arc still broadcasting and about to mess up other satellites in its way: galaxy15.jpg
"In what industry officials called an unprecedented event, Intelsat's Galaxy 15 communications satellite has remained fully "on," with its C-band telecommunications payload still functioning even as it has left its assigned orbital slot of 133 degrees west longitude 36,000 kilometers over the equator. ... The first satellite likely to face signal interference problems from the adrift Galaxy 15 is the AMC-11 C-band satellite owned by SES of Luxembourg and stationed at 131 degrees west, just two degrees away from Galaxy 15's starting position."
If nothing can be done to stop it, Galaxy 15 will continue beyond AMC-11 and go on to torture other nearby satellites until it stops pointing at Earth...eventually. No one knows when that will happen, so Galaxy 15 could be causing havoc for quite awhile. When it does finally die it will join about 160 other so-called "zombiesats" that are dead but still shuffle around the planet aimlessly searching for brains. Galaxy 15 is near and dear to my heart because it was one of the satellites that carried Syfy's signal. So long old berserk, crazy friend... "Out-of-control satellite threatens spacecraft"


    1. I’m afraid not. It orbited for three months before burning up in the Earth atmosphere.

    2. tuckerw, The first Sputnik wasn’t in a very high orbit. It reentered and burned up a few months after launching.

  1. later this century, along with all of our earthly pollution concerns, space garbage will be yet another arena for environmental/social debate.

    hopefully the fact that debris in space is so closely linked with the economic interests of the people who “do stuff” in space will make it a much less contentious issue to deal with…at least from a political stand point. then there is actually finding some way to start removing all of this space-wasting crap from over our heads before our stratosphere becomes impassable.

    1. No, it won’t fall into the atmosphere. Unlike Sputnik, it will be out there until somebody takes the trouble to gather it up. Eventually its gyros will fail, and it will gibber at random points in the sky, occasionally rotating to point at unfortunate spots on the ground. At some point its transmitter will fail, and it will fall silent.

  2. Of course it doesn’t really threaten any other satellites. It threatens *reception*, on the ground, of those signals transmitted by the other satellites on the frequencies it is also using. It’s that street preacher shouting outside your classroom so you can’t hear the professor, the loonie on the train whose jabber makes you miss the announcement of your stop.

  3. I have no doubt that the weapon exists that can permanently disable this guy without adding more debris to Earth’s garbage ring.

    But it’s likely that the military that controls such a weapon, doesn’t want to advertise its capability.

    It would make more sense to build in some kind of dead man switch so if the sat wasn’t sure it was useful, it would turn itself off. Thus forestalling the grey goo disaster for just a little bit longer. But that might cost money, so forget it.

  4. Water pollution, air pollution, signal pollution.
    Find a solution.

    what a dumb chant.

  5. The satellite won’t fall into the atmosphere, at least for several million years. It’s about 36,000 km (22,000 miles) above the earth’s surface (the atmosphere goes only a few hundred km up).

    If it were in a perfect geosynchronous orbit, it would stay exactly above one point on the earth’s surface (a point exactly over the equator, and about a thousand miles west of Equador).

    Unfortunately, no satellite stays in a perfect geosynchronous orbit. Gravitational tugs from the sun and moon, as well as the earth’s non-spherical shape, cause these satellites to slowly drift from their intended locations. So every few months, the satellite will fire small station keeping rockets, to keep it in the right place. Otherwise, it will slowly drift away from its intended location.

    I suspect that the solar storm has disrupted the Galaxy-15’s control system, so that its station-keeping rockets can’t be properly fired. But apparently, the other electronics are working properly.

    Tough problem – 36,000 km is way beyond the reach of the space shuttle.

  6. The military already has the ability to smash satellites to smithereens. I have a close relative who worked on the project so long ago it’s already declassified. As NCM points out though, this is likely not worth getting in a tizzy over.

    1. Anon #13: We have the capability to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit, we do NOT have the capability to get at satellites in geosync orbit. The difference is that of 400 miles versus 22,000 miles, it’s not as trivial as just “puttin’ the hammer down and gettin’ er dun” with an existing anti-satellite weapon.

      I like this illustration of the difference between LEO and GEO orbits:

  7. Intelsat 15 (IS 15), a commercial communications satellite, was launched on a Zenit-3SLB rocket with a Block DM-SLB upper stage from Baikonur on 30 November 2009 at 21:00 UT. The satellite is intended for a geosynchronous orbit at 85° E longitude. The satellite will provide data and video services for customers in Russia, the Middle East and in the vicinity of the Indian Ocean. IS 15 carries 22 Ku-band transponders and has an anticipated lifetime of 17 years.
    (Mileage may vary.)

  8. This is the sort of thing I expect to get if I type “WHAT’S THE BEST THING YOU GOT” into eBay.

    “Zombie satellite wandering geosynchronous orbit, will obey your bidding for a mere $2.5million plus cost of access.”

  9. Galaxy 15 is still Earth-locked and transmitting. Several methods have been tried to get it to shut down, none with success. The satellite is sending telemetry, but is completely unresponsive to commands. The theory is the primary command processor is sending noise, so command through the secondary cannot be heard.

    Attempts to overload the transponders with high power blasts to trip breakers was one of the last resorts that failed.

    It’s slowly drifting through the main satellite arc, staying oriented to Earth. Interfering with AMC 11 is just the start. If it stays properly oriented, it’s going to cause havoc with all the main cable birds.

    The thrusters are working, since it’s keeping Earth-lock, but it’s not staying in it’s “center of box”.

    The problem with destroying the satellite is that the debris of that would travel the geosync arc, likely destroying other satellites.

    Tough problem indeed.

  10. (Google Chrome says: The website at contains elements from the site, which appears to host malware.)

    Killer zombie satellite is now talking to killer zombie website? Or is this just a clever ploy by SighFry to shill another spazastic TV movie of the week? Color me benumbed!

  11. Didn’t the Chinese do some sort of satellite destroying thing in 2007 or 2008? Kinetic kill, or something.

    Surely someone – the US or China – can do something like that? It’s just hitting it with a big chunk of metal.

    It’d be fun for all involved!

  12. Don’t let it get back to earth! This is how Shawn of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead started.

  13. The life of a comm-sat or “bird” is that it can correct its nominal position using gas jets. This is called “station keeping” When it can no longer station keep it wobbles but remains in its assigned window. Users have to run software to track a “wobble-sat”. When it is no longer useful, enough fuel remains to blast it out of the window so another bird can be put in its place. Not being able to shut a bird down is unusual. Weapons test anyone?

  14. I would recommend this excellent graphic novel and animated serious of “hard” science fiction for people interested in this problem. I believe it is a fairly realistic look at the future of human’s place in space. It is a drama, and has all the elements of a drama, but I still believe that it is both accurate and entertaining.
    Click through it you like.

  15. How did it all start? where they (IT guys) not prepared for this…? now it’s Zombiesat eh? soon it will be earth’s in trouble, are we sure it’s not part of their plans…making space stories and solving problems sequence?
    well am still wondering what a PC is made of, now i have to lookout to space for signs and wonders.
    How do i explain this to my grandma? Let’s hope the Zombiesat can be contained soonest so it will not trigger a space battle or a Nuclear Bomb.

  16. G15 was built by Orbital Sciences, who apparently has yet to figure out that this whole “solar flare” thing happens pretty frequently. Might want to put in some back-up systems on your birds like the rest of us do.

  17. well think of all the metal they could salvage from dead sats as well as gold, or platnium

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