Telecommunication is by far the most important and most profitable space application. For this reason, it should not surprise that this kind of satellites is among the biggest, longer lasting, and most reliable satellites ever built. Yet sometimes even this kind of satellite experiences a major malfunction whose consequence can be serious both in the short and in the long term.
On August 26, 2017, the Indonesian Telkom-1 satellite stopped working. The initial hypothesis was an antenna pointing error, but a few days after the loss of contact, the company ExoAnalytic Solutions published the video taken with ground telescopes showing that the satellite was shedding a significant track of debris. The satellite has been declared lost, and it is still not clear what caused the incident.
The Indonesia Telkom-1 satellite leaving a track of debris.
The incident had expensive consequences in terms of disruption of services. According to Reuters, the incident cut out about 15,000 terminals used by government agencies, banks, and broadcasters[AG1] . Thousands of ATMs and electronic card payment machines went offline, affecting the transactional infrastructure that makes commerce possible. It is difficult to quantify with precision the extent of the economic damage.
Yet the worst damage is yet to come. The Telkom-1 satellite was operating in geostationary orbit (GEO), an orbit used by communications, television broadcasting, and weather forecasting satellites because satellites in GEO appear stationary with respect to a geographic area.
The geosynchronous orbit (GEO) has an orbital period that is equal to a sidereal day, so a satellite in GEO appears to be stationary with respect to a geographic area.
The incident generated a large cloud of debris in GEO that, over time, will drift to intersecting orbital planes, causing an increase in the frequency of costly debris-avoidance maneuver for other satellites. These maneuvers can cause short interruptions of service with consequences similar to the ones described above. Even if they are not permanent, such short disruptions are indeed costly and extremely consequential.
An independent decommissioning system like the one installed in D-Sat could solve a situation like this by enabling satellite operators to remove a satellite from the operational orbit as soon as it becomes clear that it has suffered a major malfunction. Even if the satellite becomes unresponsive, an independent decommissioning system is still able to communicate with the ground and initiate the proper decommissioning maneuver.
This is another way the D-Sat mission is helping create a safer world.