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'Zombie' satellite runs amok in Earth's orbit

The out-of-control communications satellite Galaxy 15 is drifting into orbits occupied by other spacecraft.

Intelsat's Galaxy 15 satellite launched in 2005 with an Ariane 5 rocket in Guyana. The communications satellite stopped responding last month, becoming a 'zombie' satellite that now threatens other spacecraft.

Newscom/File

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An attempt to shut down the electronics payload of the out-of-control communications satellite Galaxy 15 has failed, leaving the satellite - which ceased responding to ground commands last month - still in its uncontrolled "zombiesat" drift toward orbits occupied by other spacecraft, the satellite's fleet operator Intelsat said Tuesday.

Galaxy 15 is closing in on the geostationary orbital slot occupied by another C-band satellite, the AMC-11 spacecraft operated by SES World Skies, and with its stuck-on communications payload will be in a position to cause potentially severe interference with the SES satellite during a two-week period starting around May 23, according to Intelsat and SES estimates.

The unsuccessful attempt to shut down the so-called "zombiesat" – a satellite industry term for failed satellites in orbit - occurred on Monday.

IN PICTURES: 'In orbit'

In a Tuesday statement in response to Space News inquiries, Intelsat said it is researching other ways to shut down Galaxy 15 once the satellite has passed through the AMC-11 position and enters — for a limited period of time — a stretch of orbital terrain unoccupied by other C-band spacecraft.

"We do not have an additional specific technical attempt identified at this time," Intelsat said in the statement. "But we will not give up, and expect to have other options to pursue at that time. We are now cooperating with other operators and customers to minimize potential service disruptions caused by interference."

Galaxy 15 stopped responding to ground commands April 5 and since then has drifted out of its 133 degrees west longitude orbital slot on an eastward path along the geostationary arc at around 36,000 kilometers above the equator.

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