The first low-budget 'Arcturus' satellite has major power issues

Low-budget geostationary internet satellite provider, Astranis, has reported the unfortunate power failure of its first "Arcturus."
Christopher McFadden
Screenshot from Astranis promotional video.


The company reports that the first Astranis' geostationary internet "Arcturus" satellite has suffered from a major power supply fault. Designed to provide internet connectivity from geostationary orbit, the satellite was successfully delivered to space using a SpaceX Falcon rocket in May this year.

Major power failure

Once the company established control of the satellite, it then proceeded to issue commands and update the flight software. The next step involved elevating Arcturus' orbit and positioning it in a geostationary location that offered a commanding view of Alaska. Subsequently, the satellite connected with an internet gateway based in Utah and communicated with numerous user terminals located in Alaska.

However, at some point later, an unexpected issue with a supplier's component on the solar array drive assembly of the satellite, explained Astranis. According to an update shared by Astranis co-founder John Gedmark on Friday, this assembly rotates the solar arrays to keep them directed towards the Sun, ensuring continuous power supply for the spacecraft.

"The Astranis engineering team has been doing an incredible job working around the clock to troubleshoot the issue," Gedmark said. "We have now reproduced the problem on the ground in a vacuum chamber, zeroed in on the exact source of the failure, and know how to fix it for future spacecraft. Because this failure occurred within the internal workings of a component supplied by an external vendor, we’re not in a position to go into the full technical details," he added.

"This is a frustrating situation—the Arcturus spacecraft is in a safe state and fully under our control, the payload and our other Astranis in-house designed components are all working perfectly, and the tanks are fueled for years of on-orbit operation," he said. "But unless something major changes, the mission of providing Internet connectivity in Alaska will be delayed," Gedmark remarked.

Founded in 2015, Astranis is on a mission to deliver high-speed Internet from geostationary space at a low price. Given its drive to reduce costs, it should probably not come as much of a surprise that the first satellite ran into issues like this. But one, the company is confident it can overcome. Gedmark provided an update stating that the company has promptly identified a solution to resolve the issue on upcoming spacecraft in production. Additionally, efforts are underway to establish Internet service in Alaska as intended initially with Arcturus through Pacific Dataport.

Astranis very disappointed

The backup plan, he said, "involves a special, multipurpose satellite that can operate as an on-orbit spare and bridge us to a full replacement satellite. We call this satellite UtilitySat. It can operate anywhere in the world, on multiple frequency bands, with the flexibility of a software-defined satellite. UtilitySat has been in the works for over a year, is in the final stages of integration, and is manifested on our very next launch that will take place at the end of this year."

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