Pacific Satellites Fail

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Pack your Aloha shirts. We’re off to Honolulu (virtually), for the annual Pacific Telecommunications Council conference running January 16-19th. PTC promotes the development, understanding and beneficial use of telecommunications and information technology throughout the entire Pacific Hemisphere.

Speakers, Sessions and Exhibitors include VoIP pioneer Jeff Pulver, a WiMax SuperSession and New Satellite Businesses.

But as Telecommunications officials from across the Pacific gathered in Hawaii the entire Pacific region went off line. Intelsat’s Pacific satellite at 174 East (804) suffered a sudden and complete loss of signal, causing widespread outages throughout the Pacific.

The Marshall Islands, Palau, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, among others, were unable to make international telephone calls, access the Internet or send e-mail. Only the Pacific territories with fiber-optic cable, including Guam, the Northern Marianas, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, could easily backup their communications backbones.

Although critical services such as air traffic control and weather information were quickly transferred to neighboring satellites, some island nations are still without communications.

“The nature of small island countries is that we don’t have many options for satellite carriers, and the rates are such that we can’t afford to maintain backup satellites,” said John Sohl, Deputy General Manager of FSM Telecommunications Corporation. “So when something like this happens, we’re stuck.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, JCSAT-1B, operated by JSAT Corporation, lost one of its liquid bipropellant thrusters, according to a company statement. JSAT reported that it is planning to restore operations of the satellite using its remaining satellites.

Another Intelsat Dark: Cause Unknown

Intelsat today reported their Intelsat 804 (see: footprint, Lyngsat, specs & Lockheed Martin), failed in orbit Friday, the second such failure for the satellite operator in less than two months. The satellite was uninsured.

Intelsat said their IS-804 suffered “a sudden and unexpected electrical power system anomaly” Friday evening, rendering the satellite totally and permanently unusable. Many customers of the satellite had been moved to other satellites by Sunday evening.

“Intelsat currently believes that there is no connection between this event and [the IA-7 satellite failure] less then two months earlier, since the two satellites were manufactured by different companies and their designs are different,” the statement said.

The manufacturer of the Intelsat 804 was Lockheed Martin, which used their AS-7000 satellite plaform. Meanwhile, Intelsat’s IA-7 satellite that failed in November, was built by a different company (Space Systems/Loral) and had a completely different, 1300 space platform.

On November 28, 2004, Intelsat-7 went dark. It also experienced a sudden and unexpected electrical distribution anomaly“.

Intelsat-7 (see: footprint, Lyngsat, specs & Space Systems/Loral), was launched in September 1999 and covered the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Central America, and parts of South America from 129° West.

One might wonder about the fate of Intelsat 701, at 180 degrees East, which is on the left side of the satellite chart (above). Intelsat 804 is on the right. Atlantic-based Intelsat 707 is critical for middle east/US traffic.

The cause of the Intelsat IA-7 and Intelsat 804 loss is still unknown but the reliability and credibility of satellite communications may have suffered a body blow this week.

Of course there’s no reason to expect foul play of any sort.

But…beam weapons that could “take out” a satellite are quickly becoming a reality. Satellite providers may have entered a new era.

U.S. military and commercial satellites are vulnerable to attack, said Lt. Gen. Edward G. Anderson III, deputy commander of the U.S. Space Command, in 2001. He told the House Armed Services Committee that the United States runs “the very real risk of a ‘space Pearl Harbor’ or another Sputnik that catches us off guard and unprepared.”

Directed Energy Weapons include laser, high power radio frequency (HPRF), and particle beam technologies. High-Power Microwave (HPM) weapons and lasers are the primary directed-energy weapons, but on the horizon is a third called a plasma weapon. A plasma packet has mass, moves through space and has been compared with a bolt of lightning. It is slower than a laser beam or HPM spike, but it can cause much more physical damage.

Dr. Good, ran the Air Force’s Directed Energy Directorate. A flux compression generator is used to generate the gigawatts of power needed for a microwave weapon.

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico developed the XSS-11 intercepter, one satellite killer.

Scientists at Sara Inc., have developed a portable microwave emitter that can stop a car from several hundred feet. They hope to sell it to police agencies. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program funds ideas like that.

Intelsat dropped plans for a public stock offering in favor of a $3 billion acquisition by four buyout firms, but the loss of the satellite could trigger a clause in the acquisition agreement that would let Zeus Holdings cancel the deal.

The stuff of spy novels.

Satellite providers, once owned and operated by governments or private capital, have been bought out by investment bankers who now call the shots.

It all started in 1965 with a 76-pound spacecraft named Early Bird. A consortium named Comsat ran it and the ITU provided the C-band spectrum. It could handle 240 simultaneous telephone calls or one TV channel. A new era was launched — geostationary satellite communications.

COMSAT was a stock company, owned partly by public shareholders and partly by telecom companies that were also users of the system.

The industry really got off the ground when T l sat Canada implemented the first domestic system. Following the regulatory innovation in the US called “Open Skies”, the number of North American satellite operators increased to four. [see C-SPAN Celebrates 25]

Satellite operators in the 70s and early 80s were run by telecom companies, namely AT&T, GTE and Western Union. Intelsat was the international carrier. In 1984, Rene Anselmo put up his own money to fund Panamsat, the world’s first privately owned international satellite. Reed Hundt called him, “the Indiana Jones of telecommunications”.

Today, some 200 geostationous satellites are currently in service. And there’s an a new sheriff in town with the takeover of Intelsat, Eutelsat PanAmSat and New Skies — the biggest satellite operators in the world — by private equity firms.

The Top Fixed Satellite Operators, including Intelsat, Eutelsat, New Skies Satellites NV and PanAmSat are now looking to maximize profits.

  • British Telecom, the UK’s largest telecom company, sold its 15.8 percent stake in Eutelsat, to a Goldman Sachs Group for $690 million in cash. Eutelsat is currently the world’s third-biggest satellite operator and has capacity on 24 satellites that provide coverage from North and South America to Far East Asia.
  • Intelsat, the second-largest global satellite operator, is delaying the launch of its Intelsat Americas-8 satellite, a possible snag in the company’s proposed $3 billion sale to Apax Partners and Zeus Holdings Limited. Lockheed Martin owns a 24 percent stake in Intelsat, which is incorporated in Bermuda but headquartered in Washington, D.C. Intelsat has 28 satellites in orbit and leases capacity on two others.
  • New Skies Satellites NV was acquired by The Blackstone Group, a private investment and advisory firm, for $956 million in cash. The Dutch satellite company, New Skies Satellites NV, one of only four fixed satellite communications companies with global coverage, has five satellites in orbit and ground facilities around the world.
  • PanAmSat, the largest satellite operator, sold out to affiliates of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., L.P., The Carlyle Group and Providence Equity Partners, for approximately $2.6 billion. KKR now has 43.5 percent stake while Carlyle and Providence each hold 26.9 percent stake. PanAmSat owns and operates a fleet of 24 satellites, worldwide as well as the AMC-16, a hybrid Ku- and Ka-band satellite will be ready for high-speed data and digital video services throughout the U.S. Their Americom 2Home® customer, EchoStar Dish Network, may market it during the first quarter of 2005.
  • European-based SES GLOBAL rests on a more traditional shareholder base, which includes GE Capital, international financial institutions, and communications groups. It was born out of the combination of ASTRA, Europe’s leading provider of satellite capacity for direct-to-home reception, and US-based AMERICOM. Their network holds interests in; AsiaSat, Nordic Satellite AB, Nahuelsat, Star One, SATLYNX and WORLDSAT. The largest supplier of satellite services in the U.S., SES AMERICOM currently operates a fleet of 16 spacecraft in orbital positions predominantly providing service throughout the Americas. They also run AMERICOM Government Services to provide services for the military.
  • Rupert Murdock, with a studio and a network, picked up controlling interest in DirecTV for $6.6 billion. Murdock’s reach is breathtaking. His pay satellites include BSkyB (United Kingdom and Ireland), Fox Sports (Australia), Foxtel (Australia), Sky PerfecTV (Japan), Star (Asia), and Stream (Italy). Murdock plays to win and HDTV may be the new battleground. Two-way satellite access, the only real option for many islanders, is getting pushed aside.

Admiral James O. Ellis (pdf) at the International Satellite & Communications (ISCe) Conference and Expo, said the U.S. military is dependent on commercial satellite services for 80% of its requirements. SATCOM On The Move, for example, provides voice and video on the move, using an Intelsat 707 satellite and its Ku-band.

The US. Military is developing four new satellite systems: a Ka- and X-band system called Wideband Gapfiller constellation to be launched in 2006, an Advanced EHF system to be launched in 2008-; the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), to be be launched in 2010-11 to provide mobile satellite communications services and the T-Sat system, to be launched in 2012. If they’re not delayed. Again.

The Pentagon’s existing X-band platform, the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS), is aging and no longer capable of meeting the military’s needs, says SatNews, while the replacement for DSCS, Wideband Gapfiller, is behind schedule.

Not to worry. A private company, XTAR Communications plans to offer X-band services to government users in the United States, Spain, and other friendly and allied nations in early 2005.

XTAR, a joint venture between Loral, which owns 56 percent, and HISDESAT, which owns 44 percent, operates a total of twenty 72 MHz transponders using the military’s X-band (7.90-8.40 GHz Uplink/7.25-7.75 GHz Downlink).

XTAR XTAR-EUR has 12 72-MHz transponders, two global beams, one fixed spot beam over Europe and four steerable spot beams. Its satellite footprint reaches from eastern Brazil to Singapore, including the Middle East and the entire African continent. In the fourth quarter of 2005, XTAR-LANT will carry eight 72-MHz XTAR transponders, two global beams, one fixed beam over the United States and three steerable spot beams. The XTAR-LANT footprint reaches from Saudi Arabia to Denver, CO.

XTAR alone cannot satisfy the U.S. Government’s SATCOM requirements, but it will significantly augment bandwidth in the government’s critical communication frequency, X-band.

The rising demand from the military cannot compare to the consumer’s DBS TV demand.

Rainbow Media recently completed contract with Lockheed Martin for the construction of five Ka-band satellites for VOOM. These high power satellites, the first of which is to be completed and launched in 34 months, will enable VOOM to increase its channel capacity to more than 5,000 high definition channels when operating in spot beam.


The Hughes DIRECWAY (FAQ) provides 500Kbps downloads and up to 50Kbps uploads. The Hughes DirecWay DW6000 modem, can network multiple home computers or laptops and integrates transmit and receive components in one compact unit. Skycaster puts a mobile solution on a trailer while install 2-way dishes on RVs.

RV Parks, Marinas and campgrounds sometimes use Echostar’s Starband, packaged by NomadISP, which uses WiFi for local distribution. Starband’s 481 residential modem claims 100 kbps uploads in Turbo Mode. Pricing varies but 2-way residential dishes can cost $600 with monthly fees in the $50-$80 range.

The most innovative and potentially revolutionary is RaySat’s newly announced phased array satellite dish ($3500) with built-in WiFi. It claims to provide 2-way satellite access while moving when it becomes available this summer.

User groups like Starband Users, DirecPC Uncensored and have lots of helpful information.

Northern Sky Research, in a report entitled IP VPN Via Satellite, explains that satellite delay can wreck havoc with networking and VPN software. When IPSec security is installed, performance degradation can become serious. UDcast‘s UDgateway-POP, a WiFi-friendly, satellite-aware IP appliance, is said to improve download, security and authentication performance when using WiFi access.

With WiFi, each facility typically must have its own VSAT. With WiMAX, different hotspots can connect to a central VSAT hub. At least in theory. The practice has yet to be proven although Wavesat has been working on it in Canada.

The development of 2-way, Ka “spot beam” satellites was thought to be a cost/effective solution to 2-way satellite access. A million dollar transponder typically maxed out with 7-8,000 users – making service expensive. Spotbeams in the 20/30 Ghz Ka band, allow satellite ISPs to reuse the transponder (processing the signal in separate electronics). It also focuses the beam for higher EIRP and smaller terminals. But DirecTV’s Rupurt Murdock killed their 2-way Spaceway venture. Competition from cellular, WiMax, DSL and cable, apparently, is making investors cautious.

Gilat’s SkyEdge DVB-RCS platform is planned to complete its Satlabs certification process during quarter three of 2005. Digital Video Broadcasting – Return Channel via Satellite (DVB-RCS) is an open standard that provides a return channel via satellite to systems based on the DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) standard.

But ViaSat’s cable modem-based terminal, should lower the cost of 2-way satellite access to $250 or so when it becomes available later this year from Wild Blue.

The dilemma for satellite provides is limited spectrum. For example the FCC allows only 500 Mhz of spectrum in the “C” band for up and down transmissions. That’s less bandwidth than a typical cable tv system which can provide 750 MHz. Fiber can deliver terabits per second — and without latency — but getting fiber to every island is the tricky bit.

Oceanic Cable is mapped so fishermen don’t pull up a segment. Oregon is getting a new undersea cable this spring. The Alaska United Fiber System – West cable joins ten previously installed undersea communications cables on the Oregon coast.

The TxVision teleport in Hawaii can uplink to two-thirds of the world’s population in China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and India. Those satellites include AGILA 2, MEASAT 2 and Japan’s JSAT DBS (JCSAT-8). A far eastern footprint is one hop away. Alternately, New Skies NSS-6 in Australia, can “see” Asia, the Middle East and Southern Africa with spot beams.


Westbound Satellite Circuits from Hawaii:
Long. Ant. Band Satellite Geographies Served
128E 9.3 m C/Ex-C JCSAT-3 South East Asia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan
138E Ku/C APSTAR-5 (pending launch)
146E 9.3 m C/Ex-C AGILA-2 Asia, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka
148E 11 m C-Band MEASAT-2 Asia, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka
150E 2.4 m Ku-Band JCSAT-1B Hawaii-USA, Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia
154E 11 m C/Ex-C JCSAT-2A Australia, New Zealand, Oceania, Japan and South East Asia

Transpacific fiber is point-to-point. Satellites can link everyone across an ocean. Most of the time.

More satellite information is available at, SpaceNews, Satellite Web, Florida Today, Spaceflight Now, World SpaceFlight News, MSN Space, Space Today, Global VSAT Forum, Jonathan’s Space Report, SatNews, Satellite News, Satellite News Digest, Palo Wireless, Space and Missile Times, Yahoo Space News and Yahoo’s Satellites catagories. Lloyd Wood’s Satellite Constellations covers the LEOs, while SkyREPORT and LyngSat Satellite Chart have the GEOs. Companies include Boeing Satellite Systems, Lockheed Martin, Loral Skynet, PanAmSat and SES Americom.

Related DailyWireless satellite stories include; Global Tsunami Warning System Announced, RadarSats Image Tsunami, Mobile Satellite Access, Stealth Satellites, Space Mist, Spot Beam Satellite Launches, Space Balls, Intelsat-7 Goes Dark, Rocket Welfare, WildBlue Launches, Spaceway Retrogrades, Rainbow1 + 802.16a?, Spaceway Retrogrades, Multiuser Satellite Access, C-SPAN Celebrates 25, MPEG-4: Satellite, Cable & Wireless, Sharing A Satellite Van, Satellite Wi-Fi, Chapter 11 in Space, Rupert’s World, Satellite News Gathering, NRO Rides Again, Stratellite, Sky High WiFi, Battle Blimps, Spot Beam Satellite Launched, Spaceway Retrogrades, Mars: Dead or Alive, Off Shore Data Links, Future Crimes: MATRIX, Unwired in Hawaii and The Global Grid.


Posted by Sam Churchill on Saturday, January 15th, 2005 at 7:16 am .