back to article Wayward 'zombiesat' poses risk to other satellites

An out-of-control Intelsat satellite that stopped communicating with ground crews last month poses a threat to other satellites as it wanders about 36,000km above the earth. Dubbed Galaxy 15, the satellite stopped responding to ground controllers on April 5, according to Since then, engineers have sent more than 150, …


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  1. Andrew Dowd

    Abandoned ?

    Just wondering...

    Would these be considered abandonded and up for salvage??

    I know they're a long way up, but could be a lucrative sideline / secondary mission if something else is funding the boost into orbit....

    Or am I underestimating how desperately some of these 'wrecks' might be worth to the right buyer?

    "Used KH series for sale... cache intact...." (Auction onsite on Saturday)

    Unless of course someone has already 'claimed' them while they await immigration approval....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Start a refurbisment station at the ISS maybe

      There's the cost of getting to the things, getting them back into servicable state --if possible-- then find someone willing to pay for their function. Otherwise you'd have to get them down, fix them, get them up again, and without a space elevator that's still astronomically expensive. The military stuff will likely already have come down, but then as a manmade ball of fire.

      Still and all, if you figure you can do it maybe someone's crazy enough to put up some seed money. All I can afford is a couple thousand pounds. Think that's enough to get started?

      1. Naughtyhorse

        without a space elevator

        bloody space elevator

        so as well as being impossible, it will be cheap too.

        thats a bit of good news

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Not a new idea :)

      I liked this show as a kid:

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Not a new idea (2) :-)

        I liked this show as an adult:

    3. AGirlFromVenus

      geostationary is 36000Km...

      ...high, and not likely to hold many satellites with earth focused cameras.

      Lots of TV/Radio transponders though...



    4. Vulch
      Thumb Down

      No Salvage

      Maritime salvage doesn't apply in space, and the treaties covering ownership don't really acknowledge private ownership at all. The launching nation remains liable for any damage caused.

      1. Andrew Dowd

        Thank you...

        This was the response I was looking for...

        Well aware of the distance and energy involved, hence the

        "something else is funding the boost into orbit..."

        ... like a space elevator or regular ferry services to various L points or the Chinese moon base.....

        I'll come up with a 'device' to do it and get a patent.....

        And sit back.... and wait for someone to build anything that does something vaguley similar and go after them.

        How to get rich.... (post dotcom boom variation)

        1. Patent!

        3. Profit.

        Better get the icon right this time...

    5. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Not worth it

      NASA recovered a couple of satellites from low orbit when the Shuttle was new. The policy never caught on as the cost of refurbishing and decontaminating the satellites was extremely high.

      As for geosynchronous orbit, there currently is no way of getting stuff back from high orbit. No one's ever got round to building a space tug and the boosters used to kick satellites out to geosync don't have fuel to bring them closer to home.

      This will be an insurance claim.


    6. Lee Dowling


      Why would it be at all profitable? It's costs *millions* to get up there, and sync in an orbit. Any two items touching each other is considered highly risky and difficult (shuttle docking, etc.).

      It would take *months* of mission control to get the things in the right place and tons and tons and tons of fuel to do anything useful, even on your way to somewhere else. Not to mention the "traffic control" of navigating those points. Then you have to attach and retrieve and (somehow) recover objects that were never designed to be attached to, or returned to Earth (i.e. no heat-shields for re-entry etc.) or attempt in-orbit repair of something that is broken in an unknown way (and could quite possibly just be solar flare / small almost-light-speed particle damage etc.). They are probably all fuel-expired / dangerously out of control.

      If they are military, it would almost certainly start a war. If they aren't they won't be holding anything "important" - probably just relay satellites that never actually do much else but process and transport a signal. Plus, they are still "owned" by the companies in charge (or their creditors if they went bankrupt) so it's quite literally theft if it's without their permission - salvage only really applies if the owners aren't known, no longer exist, or they voluntarily abandon them forever and give permission for salvage. They are all probably quite outdated compared to anything that could be launched with the "recovery mission" for the same price. You could probably put four or five equivalent satellites in orbit for the same price as recovering/fixing one.

      Plus, the chances of being able to repair, diagnose and put back any of them into service is extraordinarily tiny, even if you brought them back to Earth.

    7. Blofeld's Cat Silver badge

      One for eBay?

      !!! L@@K !!! Communications Satellite !!! L@@K !!!

      One previous owner, good condition, command link not working, sold as seen.

      Starting price USD 0.01

      Shipping USD 0.00 - Buyer collects.

    8. lglethal Silver badge

      Considering the cost...

      ... of putting something into geostationary orbit, i doubt very much you would make much profit in salvaging the abandoned satellites. Additionally, there unlikely to be the latest and greatest tech and so probably not worth that much anyway.

      Ive always wondered about these libation points as to whether they'res any risk of satellite collisions (like the Iradium and the old russian sat that collided last year) and whether the subsequent debris is likely to affect other Geo stationary satellites? Or are the libation points stable enough to maintain all the debris in those areas? Anyone know?

    9. Peter2 Silver badge

      No, they aren't.

      They remain the property of the owner, the same as your server is even it's BSOD'd and you can't remote into it.

      Also, they aren't really a "threat" to the other sat's in those orbit spaces in terms of risk of physical collision. Even sharing orbits, space is *really* big. On the other hand, as I recall a geostationary sat will take around a million(!) years for it's orbit to degrade to the point where it will burn up.

      Maybe someone ought to be thinking of putting a deadmans switch in satellites so if they don't speak to the world after a year they burn all of their propellent to hasten their demise and switch off. I don't know how much it'd help, but it ought to minimise electrical interference at the least.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Are we to expect lawsuits for loss of earnings etc when one satellite interferes with the correct operation of another?

  3. SuperTim


    These things are in geostationary orbit 26000 miles up. Nobody flies anything further than about 400 miles up at the moment. I doubt you could pick one up and bring it back. Notwithstanding the fact that the shuttle is the only thing that could realistically bring it back in one piece, they are retiring them and the were not designed for anything other than low-earth-orbit.

  4. JeffUK
    IT Angle

    One question..

    Have they turned it off and on again?

  5. Danny 14 Silver badge

    perseverence for you

    Sent 150000 commands?

    login as: notreallyroot

    notreallyroot@Galaxy15's password:

    Access denied

    notreallyroot@Galaxy15's password:

    Access denied

    notreallyroot@Galaxy15's password:

    Access denied


    Thats a lot of attempts at remembering the password.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    If we moved the earth

    .....about 50,000 miles to the left, we could lose all this junk.

  7. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    Well, there's yer problem, guv...

    "Since then, engineers have sent more than 150,000 commands to the roving craft in an attempt to regain control of it."

    You've flooded the control message buffer. Once you've double-clicked on the icon, you have to sit and wait for it to work - clicking again just makes it worse.

  8. DJ 2

    It's a GPS satalite too.

    Fun times for when the only visible satalite for your gps reciever is out of place.

    1. Chemist

      Re : It's a GPS satalite too.

      What makes you think that ?

      GPS satellites don't run in geostationary orbits

      1. MeRp

        what makes him/her think that?

        Probably this: "the spacecraft will also broadcast Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation data using L-band frequencies." (from the link provided)

        I'd say that is pretty damning to the idea that GPS satellites not running in Geostationary orbits....

        1. Chemist


          "I'd say that is pretty damning to the idea that GPS satellites not running in Geostationary orbits..."

          You might say it but you'd be wrong ! GPS satellites are NOT in geostationary orbit - they make 2 orbits a day - this can be seen on many receivers

          They have to track all over the globe and be as far apart as possible AFAIK for the best fix. Geostationary satellites are in an equatorial orbit and, er, stationary. If they were stationary the same satellites would always be visible to the receiver which they are not.

          The data this dead satellite provides is just augmentation data to improve the accuracy of the real system.

          There's even a little animation at

    2. Tom Chiverton 1 Silver badge


      Your GPS is screwed if you can only see one saterlite anyway.

    3. Lennart Sorensen

      Well no it isn't a GPS satellite as such.

      This is a GPS WAAS relay satellite. It isn't part of what your GPS receives as navigation data, it just relays GPS system data to the WAAS devices. Still important, although they certainly have other satellites doing that.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    What's the bet it runs Windows?

    No, really. :)

  10. Gordon is not a Moron

    Just a thought

    but could all of these junk sats be used as a last ditch shield to stop planet pusting asteroids?

    Or would if be like Willy E Coyote trying to protect himself from a falling anvil with a tiny umbrella?

  11. pctechxp

    Only one thing for it

    They'll have to blast it out of orbit with a Trident D5 or one of those useless interceptor rockets that forms the missile defence 'shield'

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Chemist "GPS satellites don't run in geostationary orbits"

    Chemist posted - "GPS satellites don't run in geostationary orbits"

    What makes *_you_* think that ?

    You've conflated GPS with NAVSTAR/GLONASS

    See -

    1. Chemist


      GPS satellites do NOT run in geostationary orbits

      To quote from YOUR source !

      The global coverage for each system is generally achieved by a constellation of 20–30 Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites spread between several orbital planes. The actual systems vary, but use orbit inclinations of >50° and orbital periods of roughly twelve hours (height 20,000 km / 12,500 miles).

    2. Chemist


      GPS systems can be augmented by many means including terrestrial and satellite sources - the Galaxy satellite was just one such source, however, it is not a primary GPS source and normal GPS receivers don't use augmentation signals.

  13. No. Really!?

    The Galaxy 15 card says...

    The Galaxy 15 satellite features a unique commercial/government hybrid payload configuration. In addition to C-band communications, which will be used to distribute entertainment and informational programming to cable television system operators, the spacecraft will also broadcast Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation data using L-band frequencies. This data is part of the Federal Aviation Administration's Wide-Area Augmentation System, which is a Global Positioning System (GPS)-based navigation system that provides precision guidance to commercial and general aviation aircraft at thousands of airports and airstrips where there is no precision landing infrastructure in place. North America, Alaska, Hawaii, Caribbean; 24 C-band transponders, 2 L-band transponders for transmission of navigational data

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Chemist "GPS satellites don't run in geostationary orbits"

    GPS system does not only comprise NAVSTAR/GLONASS

    Terrestrial Reference Stations are also part of GPS.

    Again you're conflating GPS with NAVSTAR/GLONASS,

    Galaxy15 is a WRS/WMS REBROS

    it does not utilise NAVSTAR/GLONASS.

    You could turn off all NAVSTAR/GLONASS

    and WAAS would still work.

    1. Chemist

      Re : @Chemist "GPS satellites don't run in geostationary orbits"

      It wouldn't !

      WAAS only issues corrections to GPS data - it depends on conventional GPS

  15. h 6

    150,000 commands?!!!

    Did they at least say "please"?

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