Satellite Collision Means Tiny Outages

logoThe collision of a decommissioned Russian military satellite with one of Iridium’s birds on Tuesday will likely have few affects beyond twice-daily outages of about 5-9 minutes until another satellite fills the hole in the satellite constellation. According to Tim Farrar, an analyst at TMF Associates who covers the commercial satellite industry, Iridium has a spare satellite orbiting the earth that the company can “raise” into position to fill that hole, so the outages should only last a week or two.

The outages will affect Iridium’s roughly 300,000 subscribers around the globe (except near the poles) as the hole where the satellite was passes over the earth. Farrar also notes that while Iridium may have to be nimble to navigate around the debris caused by the destruction of the two satellites, most other commercial service providers are in different orbits and should be relatively unaffected. In a worst case scenario, Iridium may have to raise the orbit of its entire constellation by 10 km to avoid debris, but Farrar says that won’t necessarily disrupt service.

Some other commercial companies have orbits relatively close – the closest is Orbcomm (only about 10km away), then the optical imaging sats are a bit lower. It wouldn’t get up to Globalstar’s (s GSAT) orbit (600km up) or of course the geostationary belt (36000km above the earth). There are also a bunch of government (military and civil) satellites in and around these orbits (weather and other Earth observation satellites for example).

As for the loss of a machine that can cost millions to build and launch, Farrar is sanguine, pointing out that it was an old satellite and that Iridium has plenty of spares to continue its operations. He also notes that Iridium is in the process of contracting for its next generation of satellites.