by Stephen Clark – April 15, 2019

A Boeing-built Intelsat communications satellite launched three years ago is drifting in geostationary orbit after suffering a fuel leak and releasing debris fragments last week, according to an analysis by space surveillance experts.

Ground-based telescopes operated by ExoAnalytic Solutions, a commercial company that tracks objects in space with a network of optical telescopes, show the Intelsat 29e communications satellite is tumbling, leaking propellant and drifting through the geostationary arc, where numerous communications satellites are stationed more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator.

The telescopic imagery also appears to show several pieces of debris came off the satellite last week, according to Bill Therien, executive vice president of engineering at ExoAnalytic Solutions.

In an April 10 statement, Intelsat said the Intelsat 29e spacecraft “experienced damage” on April 7 that resulted in a propellant leak. The event knocked Intelsat 29e out of service, and Intelsat said it was moving customers to other Intelsat satellites and third-party services to mitigate the outage, which affects maritime, aeronautical and wireless operator customers in the Latin America, Caribbean and North Atlantic regions.

In an interview with Spaceflight Now late Friday, Therien said ExoAnalytic’s sensors detected a change in the brightness of Intelsat 29e on April 8, suggesting the spacecraft was tumbling. Tracking data collected by ExoAnalytic also showed the satellite began drifting east from its operational position around the same time.

Intelsat said Intelsat 29e experienced a second anomaly April 9 that caused a loss of communication with the satellite. On April 10, ExoAnalytic’s sensors detected a piece of debris coming off the satellite, followed by more fragments over the next couple of days, Therien said.


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