DirecTV warned in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission that one of its satellites is at risk of exploding and that it is racing right now to remove it before that happens.
First spotted by SpaceNews.com, the 15-year old Spaceway-1 satellite, which was built by Boeing, suffered a battery malfunction that could cause the satellite to explode.
Boeing-made satellite had battery malfunction
"In December, Spaceway-1 suffered a major anomaly that resulted in significant and irreversible thermal damage to its batteries," wrote DirecTV in the filing. "Boeing, the spacecraft manufacturer, concluded based on all available data that the batteries’ cells cannot be guaranteed to withstand the pressures needed to support safe operation of the spacecraft in eclipse operations; rather, there is a significant risk that these battery cells could burst."
DirecTV said that while payload operations have been terminated and the spacecraft has enough power margin to avoid the use of the batteries during sunlight operations use of batteries during an eclipse isn't avoidable nor is there a way to isolate damaged battery cells.
"The risk of a catastrophic battery failure makes it urgent that Spaceway-1 be fully de-orbited and decommissioned prior to the February 25th start of eclipse season," DirecTV went on to say. It wants a waiver to get around the rule that requires DirecTV to discharge all remaining propellant prior to decommissioning the satellite.
Spaceway-1 was expected to be in orbit for five more years
According to SpaceNews.com, satellite operators are required to vent onboard propellant to reduce the risk of the satellite exploding. Similar satellites have taken two to three months to vent the remaining fuel, noted the report. "Waiver is appropriate in this case because grant would not undermine the purpose of the rule, which is to reduce the risk of accidental explosion. Under normal-orbit procedures, Spaceway-1 would complete its end-of-life maneuvers and then discharge all remaining bipropellant prior to decommissioning the spacecraft," DirecTV wrote.
DirecTV had previously expected the Spaceway-1 to stay in service until 2025. The satellite is a backup so no customers are being impacted by the failure, reported SpaceNews.com.