SES has sat-problems with L-M

Almost all satellites experience some technical problems during their lifespan. But Aug 4 saw satellite giant SES formally declare that it was suffering similar solar panel power loss problems on some Lockheed Martin A2100 craft (pictured, left), specifically on a pair in use by SES Americom.
“To date, the power loss has caused a minor reduction in available commercial capacity in two of these nine satellites (AMC-4 and AMC-16). AMC-4 C-band customers have been transferred to AMC-2, which has been co-located with AMC-4 at the 101 degrees West orbital position. The AMC-16 satellite capacity reduction resulted in an adjustment to the monthly revenue payments by the customer,” said an SES statement released along with the company’s half-yearly financials.

The SES statement suggested that the problems are not contained, and might get worse. “Together with Lockheed Martin, we have undertaken an extensive assessment of the potential impact of solar array circuit anomalies across the fleet. There is some potential for future additional degradation, although the likelihood of this is difficult to estimate. SES has in-orbit backup capacity for certain of these satellites. If the observed solar array circuit degradation continues at historical rates, over time we may need to switch off additional payload on affected satellites or advance the procurement of replacement satellites.”

By any measure this is bad news for Americom. While at Corporate HQ the financial compensation problems might be resolved, it is always difficult to adequately compensate clients for months, and in this case, years of lower power and technical problems. Americom placed the first-ever order for an A2100 satellite, AMC-1, which was launched in September 1986. Since then more than 30 have been built by Lockheed Martin, which must be a worry for its other satellite operating clients. This client list includes SES subsidiary New Skies Satellite and SES Astra, and in total SES operates nine A2100 satellites.

The information is also bad news for Lockheed Martin. It was only a couple of years ago that the giant operation received an Award (from Frost & Sullivan) for two years running for “satellite reliability”, and specifically for the A2100 models. “Frost & Sullivan concluded that the A2100 is the most reliable satellite now available for a majority of satellite services,” said a statement at the time.

L-M’s A2100 satellites are built at their Sunnyvale, California plant, and besides SES, the company has been a regular supplier to Echostar, ChinaStar, KoreaSat, Canada’s Telesat, Indonesia’s Telkom and others.