Israeli Amos-5 satellite disappearance plunges much of Africa into darkness

23 Nov 2015

An Israeli satellite that provides telecoms and TV service to much of Africa, Amos-5, has mysteriously disappeared from Earth’s orbit, sparking fears that it was struck by space debris rendering it space junk itself.

The company that produced the satellite, Spacecom, has been frantically attempting to re-connect with the satellite after it stopped responding on 21 November with no explanation as to why it stopped, with all systems appearing to be functioning normally prior to its disappearance.

According to Space News, the company has said as of 23 November that it is tracking the satellite’s orbit but has been unable to contact it with “no information on the nature of the incident” and a genuine possibility that it could be silenced forever.

The last incident that threatened the function of the satellite occurred back in 2013 when its battery charger malfunctioned, which was eventually solved, but Spacecom has said that this is not the issue affecting it this time.

With little-to-no indication or method of getting it back online, a considerable amount of TV and telecoms providers in Africa, as well as some parts of Europe and the Middle East, are being left in darkness, with Spacecom now attempting to redistribute the capacity to other satellites.

Amos-5 coverage map

The coverage range of the Amos-5 satellite. Image via Spacecom

Prior to its silencing, Amos-5 was working at 65pc load capacity, which, given the amount of data being processed, is a considerable amount to redistribute to the three other satellites operated by the company.

In its statement, the company said: “There are several options for transferring customers and we are closely working with customers vis-a-vis other satellite operators to ensure minimal interruption. Spacecom is being completely transparent with our clients. We are working to find solutions for each and every client.”

The satellite has been in orbit since 2011, having been constructed by the Russian manufacturer ISS Reshetnev, marking one of the few commercial space projects between Russia and other nations.

Meanwhile, it could prove disastrous for Spacecom financially as Amos-5 is believed to be contributing up to one-third of the company’s entire revenues, resulting in a one-third decline its share price.

However, Spacecom has reassured investors that the satellite is insured up to the value of $158m leaving a “negligible” effect in the long-term.

As for what caused the satellite to go dark, it could easily be assumed that the ever-growing concerns over space debris hitting the satellite, brought on by Earth’s orbit becoming clogged with defunct satellites, could be a likely candidate.

Satellite in orbit image via Shutterstock

Updated 07:51 24/11/2015

This article was amended to show that Spacecom currently have three other satellites in space, rather than four.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic