CEO of Canberra-based Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems

Honiara, we have a problem. A satellite leased by Telecom New Zealand has inexplicably died in the saddle and wiped-out international telecommunications services throughout the South Pacific islands in the process, forcing the Kiwi telco onto emergency back-up systems.

Satellite owner Intelsat said IS-804, a Lockeed Martin manufactured Series 7000 satellite, circa 1997, was lost due to an “electrical power system anomaly” on January 14. The loss has been estimated at US$73 million and the satellite was not insured.

The Cook Islands, Western and American Samoa, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Tonga, as well as the Scott base in Antarctica, and Chatham Islands, 500 km east of New Zealand, were all cut off, with New Caledonia, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, East Timor, Vietnam, Korea and Saipan pushed to use backup telco systems. Services are gradually being restored. Space particles, radiation or a bad solar storm can send particles that disrupt a satellite. Andrew Parfitt>Text

Conny Kullman, Intelsat CEO, said all necessary effort and assets will be allocated to ensure coverage throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Sarah Berry, spokesperson for Telecom New Zealand, said most of the islands still without satellite services will have local phone and data services, but international access had to wait for alternative arrangements. “Bank services, electronic cash, and airline data circuits have also been impacted and this could lead to some flight delays to and from these locations,” Berry said.

Intelsat communications director, Fritz Stollenbach, said the satellite had been totally written off.

“The power stopped working and so did the satellite and we’re actually having to write it off as a total loss,” Stollenbach told NZ National Radio.

Spacecraft underwriter Kirby Ikan of Asia Pacific Aerospace Consultants told Computerworld “in the last few years the bulk of losses have been from failures on the satellite itself, rather than on the launch pad.” CEO of Canberra-based Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems, Andrew Parfitt, said the satellite was likely to be drifting out of orbit. “Space particles, radiation or a bad solar storm can send particles that disrupt a satellite. But it is probably just sitting there,” Parfitt said.

According to NASA, there are more than 100,000 pieces of orbital debris between 1cm and 10cm in diameter floating around in space. That number increased by one this week.

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