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'Zombie' Satellite Returns To Life 98

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-a-trick,-run dept.
realperseus writes "The American telecommunications satellite Galaxy 15 has been brought under control after spending most of the year traversing the sky and wreaking havoc upon its neighbors. The satellite is currently at 98.5 degrees west longitude (from 133 west). An emergency patch was successfully uploaded, ensuring that the conditions which caused it to 'go rogue' will not occur again. Once diagnosis and testing have been completed, Intelsat plans to move the satellite back to 133 west."
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'Zombie' Satellite Returns To Life

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  • 133 west (Score:5, Funny)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 31, 2010 @10:49AM (#34721466) Homepage Journal

    aka 133t status

  • Gee - do you think we can successfully upload an 'emergency patch' to DHS and TSA?

  • Drat (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustOK (667959) on Friday December 31, 2010 @10:51AM (#34721484) Journal

    Drat! Foiled again.

  • It was in orbit right? It wasn't like it was under power all that time. (well if it was its unlikely to have much propellant left to do any manouvers)

    • by locofungus (179280) on Friday December 31, 2010 @11:00AM (#34721540)

      If it was perturbed into a slightly lower orbit then it would orbit the Earth in less than 24hrs. If it ended up in a slightly higher orbit then it would orbit the Earth in slightly more than 24 hrs.

      I don't want to commit to which way this satellite has gone (because I'm bound to get it backwards) but it's now about 2 hours displaced from where it should have been. That's an error in its orbit of about 0.02% or about 20 seconds per day.

      Tim.

      • Triaxiality (Score:5, Informative)

        by mangu (126918) on Friday December 31, 2010 @01:19PM (#34722760)

        Except for two stable points at 75 and 255 degrees east longitude, any geostationary satellite suffers an East-West (or West-East) perturbation due to the earth not being a perfect sphere [wikipedia.org]. This is called "triaxiality" by experts in the field.

        The result is that without correcting maneuvers the satellite longitudinal position oscillates around those two stable points, even if the orbit is exactly at the geostationary altitude.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          Hmm. I would have thought that the ellipsoid shape of the Earth would have less influence on an equatorial orbit than the changing relationship of that orbit to the Earth - Moon barycenter [astronomycafe.net].

          Relative to our frame of reference on the surface of the Earth, a geosynchronous orbit would of course be stationary above someone's head, while the barycenter would be rushing around some 2,000 km below our feet at an angular speed of 15 degrees/hr, wandering more than 30 degrees north and south of the equator on a sea

          • Re:Triaxiality (Score:5, Insightful)

            by mangu (126918) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:46PM (#34724338)

            I have worked with geostationary satellite control for over twenty years, so I know a bit about this. The masses on the earth aren't distributed evenly, the higher density of the rock in some parts pull the satellite to the east or the west.

            You are right in that the perturbation caused by the moon is several orders of magnitude larger than the one caused by this slight longitudinal asymmetry. It's only for satellites that are either in geostationary orbit or in 12 hour period orbits that this effect becomes significant.

            For other orbits the pull in one direction is compensated by a pull in the opposite direction when the satellite comes around the earth. For geostationary orbits, however, the perturbation is always in the same direction, because the satellite is always in the same position with respect to the mass asymmetry, so the effect adds up in time.

            Typically a geostationary satellite needs correcting East-West maneuvers every couple of weeks or so. These maneuvers consume about 10% of the total fuel budget for station keeping, inclination maneuvers consume the other 90%. This goes to show how stronger the perturbations caused by the sun, moon, and earth's ellipsoid shape, which cause the inclination of the orbit to increase, are compared to the triaxial density asymmetry.

            • Thank you very much! I found your explanation lucid and succinct, and I learned something new from it.

            • by jra (5600)

              I've just gotten a new gig at a network that feeds via AMC1, and I'm trying to find the TV satellite cabal on the web.

              Any pointers?

    • by RoboRay (735839)

      Newton's First Law of Motion:

      Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday December 31, 2010 @01:57PM (#34722996) Journal

        Corollary one: Any object in orbit around a body with mass has an external force applied to it.

        Corollary two: Any object in the solar system is part of an n-body problem and has lots of external forces applied to it.

        • by spazdor (902907)
          Oh, we almost forgot: objects in freefall, subject to any number of gravitational pulls, are not actually subject to any forces but are merely following a straight path through a non-flat region of spacetime.
  • Does this mean (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) *

    So does Intelsat have to give the insurance money back now? Or does it take more than a year to process this kind of claim anyway?

    • by v1 (525388) on Friday December 31, 2010 @12:15PM (#34722228) Homepage Journal

      So does Intelsat have to give the insurance money back now? Or does it take more than a year to process this kind of claim anyway?

      They were delayed due to problems scheduling an appointment for an adjustment agent to take a look at the satellite.

      • by camperslo (704715)

        They were delayed due to problems scheduling an appointment for an adjustment agent to take a look at the satellite.

        No problem, it turns out that you only missed the meeting advising you of where the payment was left. There has been a check waiting in orbit at 122 degrees west for a year. Since the satellite doesn't need replacing, you'll have to pay us back with interest. The rate is a little high as we're a Delaware corporation.

    • So does Intelsat have to give the insurance money back now?

      I'm interested in the preventative actions prescribed by the insurance policy to avoid further software catastrophes.

      Kudos to whomever figured out the patch, though, and those who designed the system such that the patch was still able to be uploaded in its current condition.

      • "Kudos to whomever figured out the patch, though, and those who designed the system such that the patch was still able to be uploaded in its current condition."

        It was actually a coincidence that they were able to do it in the first place. According to TFA it wasn't some clever people down here that fixed it.

        "On Dec. 23, the battery on Galaxy 15 &mdash; which relied on solar panels pointed at the sun to generate power &mdash; became completely drained, Intelsat officials said. Once that happened, th
        • The uploaded patch didn't fix the problem, but will prevent it from occurring in the future.

          Reading the article I am not sure how. My reading is that it has working data in something like RAM and a reference copy is built into ROM. If power is reset it copies from ROM to RAM. Radiation can corrupt the RAM. So how can a software change make the RAM less likely to be corrupted? Or have they tweaked a mechanism which triggers a reset to the copy in ROM?

        • Thanks for clarifying - agreed.

    • by LibRT (1966204)
      Typically the insurance company gets ownership of any damaged goods it pays to replace (this is known as salvage). I'm not familiar with the peculiarities of satellite insurance tho - salvage may very well not apply (or it may be in the insurance contract but not acted upon as a matter of practicality) because it seems to me it's generally an all or nothing proposition: either the satellite launches and operates successfully or it is permanently lost (the present case, surely an oddity, notwithstanding). An
      • by jra (5600)

        <nit>
        Please don't refer to Wikipedia as "wiki"; that's a common noun for a particular category of content management software. Thanks.
        </nit>

      • by jra (5600)

        PS: congrats for having the sense to use HTTPS to access all possible websites. :-)

  • by mandark1967 (630856) on Friday December 31, 2010 @10:59AM (#34721534) Homepage Journal

    It wasn't a Zombie satellite. Zombies remain dead. Plus, it didn't incessantly transmit the message, "BRAINS! It's what's for dinner!"

  • by Stele (9443) on Friday December 31, 2010 @11:00AM (#34721546) Homepage

    It's the only way to be sure.

    • by Tetsujin (103070)

      Nuke it from the ground: It's the only way to be sure.

      That probably wouldn't work, unfortunately...

      Nuclear weapons don't explode in space [nasa.gov]. The reason you get a huge explosion, heat, etc. detonating one on Earth is because radiation is soaked up by the atmosphere. If you detonate in space, you just get an intense burst of radiation... Which could still be sufficient to kill people over long distances, and it's possible this would be enough to destroy the satellite - but it's not a sure thing. You're not going to be vaporizing that satellite with a nuclear w

    • by jra (5600)

      They tried:

      "On May 3, an attempt at a very momentary series of strong pulses intended to cause a power system malfunction were sent to Galaxy 15. Unfortunately, this did not have the desired effect of causing a power system overload and subsequent shut down of the active transponders." --wp

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "On Dec. 23, the battery on Galaxy 15 became completely drained, Intelsat officials said. Once that happened, the satellite..." ...began drifting above its own orbit. Then it went through a long dark tunnel and was met by other dead satellites. One of them, a dazzling, indistinguishable brillance, told Galaxy 15 its mission was not over, and it had to return. With a jolt, the satellite reset itself as designed and began accepting commands from Intelsat's control center.

  • An emergency patch was successfully uploaded, ensuring that the conditions which caused it to 'go rogue' will not occur again.

    If only the same feat could be accomplished with Sarah Palin...

  • I LOL-ed when I read in the article that the satellite is now "fully functional"
    Just like Commander Data.

    • by jftitan (736933)

      but in this case, the satellite doesn't have a penis. Which would be totally awkward... if it did.

      • No, you inconsiderate clod. It's a girl satellite.... it's got two boobs, which isn't awkward at all. In fact, the other satellites are geosynchrously lining up for snacks.
  • Amsat-OSCAR 7 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gordonjcp (186804) on Friday December 31, 2010 @11:37AM (#34721836) Homepage

    It's worth comparing it with the venerable AO-7 satellite, which was launched in 1974 and eventually "died" when its battery failed dead short in 1981. A little over ten years later, the failed battery failed again, this time going *open* circuit and allowing the satellite to run entirely off its solar panels. So, while the satellite is illuminated by the Sun it works fairly reliably. You need to keep the power down, because it has a linear transponder so the more power you put in the more comes out - until you exceed the tiny amount produced by the solar cells. It works, though, and people communicate across the world on it every day.

  • by swordgeek (112599) on Friday December 31, 2010 @12:13PM (#34722208) Journal

    Seriously, three short lines which clearly convey the entire summary of the story, contains lots of links to both story and background, AND doesn't contain terrible typos! Also, geeky and interesting. This is what slashdot needs more of.

    • Seriously, three short lines which clearly convey the entire summary of the story, contains lots of links to both story and background, AND doesn't contain terrible typos! Also, geeky and interesting. This is what slashdot needs more of.

      This just means you didn't see my 1st submission which was full of typos and mis-spellings.. :-)

      • This just means you didn't see my 1st submission which was full of typos and mis-spellings.. :-)

        You mean *gasp* Slashdot editors actually did something?!?!?!? O.O

        MIND BLOWN

        • This just means you didn't see my 1st submission which was full of typos and mis-spellings.. :-)

          You mean *gasp* Slashdot editors actually did something?!?!?!? O.O

          MIND BLOWN

          They're out there... :-)

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      Seriously, three short lines which clearly convey the entire summary of the story, contains lots of links to both story and background, AND doesn't contain terrible typos! Also, geeky and interesting. This is what slashdot needs more of.

      Then get submitting.

      If you're not part of the problem, then you're part of the solution. Or something like that.

      Disclaimer : I've not bothered to research your submission history. Nor do I know what the site's averages are, which might be interesting in itself.

  • Just like that? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Thapa (681462) on Friday December 31, 2010 @12:20PM (#34722270)
    What impresses me most is that you can just upload patches to orbiting satellites. Sounds like a party for the next DEFCON...
    • Re:Just like that? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Cylix (55374) * on Friday December 31, 2010 @12:37PM (#34722418) Homepage Journal

      Not too long ago the norm was actually for transponders to simply be open.

      Meaning if you had a means to send a signal to a particular frequency it would be easy to bounce from that transponder and relay back down. Now, if the NOC (or SOC really) caught an open transponder being used as a relay they would eventually shut it down if you were not paying for the air time.

      This became a big deal during the initial war in Iraq as there were a good deal of hijack broadcasts spewing forth from across the sea. In response, they eventually began shutting down transponders until they were scheduled to be used. Either out of interest or trying to lock a particular bird I would find them at random times.

      Somehow I doubt the mechanisms used on the old satellites were more obscurity then security to prevent updates.

      • Not too long ago the norm was actually for transponders to simply be open.

        He means like this [2600.com]

        • Not too long ago the norm was actually for transponders to simply be open.

          He means like this [2600.com]

          The link off that page is dead, but I'll save you the trouble - Captain Midnight didn't do anything to a satellite.

          Satellite hacking has been a commercially available service for some years now - don't know if they're still offering the service (their prices look a little old) but these folks can help. [digicrime.com]

          An example of what's available from a hijacked surveillance drone is here [digicrime.com].

          Disclaimer:- this is just a hobby.

    • by socz (1057222)
      haha yeah, thats what I was thinking! BTW, do you have any connections for the ninja party? I wanted to go last year but apparently, a lot of people didn't seem to talk to my friend and I while waiting in line for talks. They'd listen in, but not really want to talk with us lol. It's like being back in highschool all over again!
      • by Thapa (681462)
        Haha, no, I don't know anyone related to DEFCON whatsoever. I just thought it'd be awesome to read about satellite hacking in some future post.
  • by Identita (1256932) on Friday December 31, 2010 @12:25PM (#34722332)
    "We have placed Galaxy 15 in safe mode, and at this time, we are pleased to report it no longer poses any threat of satellite interference to either neighboring satellites or customer services," Intelsat officials announced." Unknown to anyone, the last shuttle launch had a secret space walk in order to hit CTRL-ALT-DEL on the sat's terminal.
  • 8 months-ish,that sounds about right for "I'll get around to it".
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      From what I understand they were on it all the time but there was simply nothing they could do. The satellite's systems did not respond to commands so they basically had to wait for it to drain its batteries and have the emergency system kick in and reset it autonomously. That just happened, so now they can actually work on it again.

      • Hopefully they'll be able to prevent something similar from happening again barring another intense solar storm.
      • by jra (5600)

        Correct: the baseband control processor was what froze; the bent-pipe transponders remained active, as did the sun- and earth-pointing subsystems.

        When the batteries finally drained far enough, the BBE reset itself, and the next time the panels had sun, it came up *just* long enough to let them upload the patches, and reenable the sunlocker.

  • Sounds like a movie title by Ed Wood.

  • An emergency patch was successfully uploaded, ensuring that the conditions which caused it to 'go rogue' will not occur again.

    Sounds exactly like the marketing-speak I use when people find bugs in my code... Sounds better than "we screwed up"

  • Hey guys, we got the satel- Assuming direct control.
  • by assemblerex (1275164) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:37PM (#34723840)
    I am sure that bonus is going to be REAL NICE for saving $250,000,000 in hardware from deorbit.
    • by socz (1057222)
      but little do you know, that it was a contractor that did the work, and their employee is only a seasonal temp!
  • by cstacy (534252)

    Sweet Zombie Jesus Satellite!

  • All the tranmissions from the satellite says: "brains"

    Bring it back down to earth to study closer.

  • by kc8jhs (746030) on Friday December 31, 2010 @05:59PM (#34724806)
    I was curious just how far off that is. Turns out, it's quite a bit [goo.gl].
  • Now we don't have to worry about Galaxy 15 returning to Earth to message the Creator, and getting pissed and destroying the planet when the Creator doesn't respond, a la V-ger...
  • 'Zombie' Satellite Returns To Life

    Have we learned nothing? If you want it to stay dead you need to destroy the brain.

  • Space.com is really annoying, with these banner ads that have the smallest close buttons, and the damned Chrome popup that hides its close button. I'm not at all sure it's worth going to those links any more. At least for me.

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