The Intelsat 29e Satellite Failure

Can satellite failures due to space radiation effects be prevented in the future?

In early April 2019, the Intelsat 29e Satellite developed a fuel leak and failed soon after. Intelsat says that a micrometeoroid impact or an electrostatic discharge, coupled with a “harness flaw” are the most likely reasons for this mission ending failure. The 29e, which was Intelsat’s first high-throughput satellite, was only operational for three years of its 15-year expected life. The failure of the uninsured satellite left the company with a $382 Million asset impairment charge.

The 29e satellite operated at geosynchronous altitudes roughly 22,236 miles above sea level. This orbital region is highly complex, particularly for space radiation effects. At this altitude, high energy electrons are present and often result in spacecraft charging. The accumulation of these excess electrons is one of the most common causes of electrostatic discharge in space. In this environment, charging levels can reach hundreds of volts or even several kilo-volts. Voltages this high are more than enough to produce arcing, short circuits, and other potentially fatal types of damage.

The space industry suffers from a lack of readily available commercial mechanisms to identify and stop problems like this terrestrially. EMA has developed advanced software tools – EMA3D® Internal, and a number of other tools, to help prevent these types of issues. In addition, EMA is constructing the world’s first commercial space radiation effects test facility, at its Pittsfield, MA location. EMA hopes that by making both testing and analysis more readily available, failures like this can be avoided! We can analyze materials, systems, and much more, at almost any orbit. Contact us to see how we can help prevent issues like this!