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Boeing 702 Satellites Solar Arrays Possibly Defective

Boeing Satellite Systems has been notifying a number of its customers of a potential issue with solar array output power on five six BSS 702 model satellites. The power arrays on a number of BSS 702s in orbit have exhibited a faster than expected performance degradation during early operational life. Among the satellite companies that may be impacted by the solar array issue are XM Satellite Radio and PanAmSat. C.E. Unterberg, Towbin issued a research note late September 26 calling attention to the flaw in the power systems for the Boeing satellites.

Boeing has isolated the problem to the reflectors attached to the satellites’ solar arrays and is removing those reflectors from all future 702 satellites. It remains unclear whether the problem is serious enough to affect the overall performance of the satellites. The satellites would normally launch with about 16.000 kW of power from their solar panels, a power supply that would decrease over 15 years to about 15.000 kW. However, in the case of the defective 702-series satellites, concentrators that reflect sunlight on to the solar arrays were not working as well as expected, meaning the satellites will degrade to about 12.000 kW after 15 years, instead of 15.000 kW. Power output is a major factor that determines if satellites can be used at full capacity throughout their life.

PanAmSat has two BSS 702s in orbit. PanAmSat, which provides commercial satellite bandwidth for broadcasters and others, said the performance of the company's Boeing satellites was not immediately affected by the solar power problem. Hughes Electronics Corp., which is a business unit of General Motors Corp., owns roughly 80 percent of PanAmSat..

XM Satellite Radio also has two BSS 702 model satellites in orbit. XM has advised its insurance carriers of the situation and the potential for a claim of damages. Given its insurance coverage and contracts for spare satellites, XM said it anticipates the solar array situation will have no material impact on its service and operations.  XM said the satellites were not likely to drop below their specified power levels “before the latter half of the decade”.

Shares in satellite radio broadcaster XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. fell almost 31 percent on September 27 in heavy trading after the company announced the flaw in the two satellites of its newly launched service could cause them to be replaced earlier than planned. The decline in XM shares was the largest single-day loss since the company went public in October 1999 and took the shares from an opening price of $6.28 to a session low of $4.02 before closing at $4.30 on Nasdaq. Trading volume surged to over seven times the September average.

XM Satellite Radio had officially launched the first U.S. digital satellite radio service in its lead markets, Dallas/Fort Worth and San Diego, on September 25. XM's product rollout is to expand across the entire Southwest and Southeast United States, covering half the country by mid-October and across the rest of the continental U.S. in November. XM is offering its 100 channels of digital-quality, coast-to-coast sound for $9.99 a month. Leading manufacturers offer 24 models of XM radios, a broad array including universal models that will easily enable any existing car stereo system to receive XM service, and new AM/FM/XM systems offering many other great features. Sony, Alpine and Pioneer XM radios are being distributed through major electronics retailers including Best Buy, Circuit City, Tweeter, participating RadioShack Dealers and Franchisees, Sears and Crutchfield. Delphi-Delco systems will roll out initially in Cadillac DeVille and Seville models beginning in November, expanding to more than 20 GM models next year. The two satellites, were orbited in March and May. The company's two satellites, nicknamed ``Rock'' and ``Roll'' and built by Boeing Co.

Boeing has been struggling to overcome a series of earlier manufacturing defects and quality-control lapses that have upset many customers. The defects have resulted in a string of highly publicized failures or premature replacements of satellites. The problems have ranged from faulty onboard computers to substandard parts to malfunctioning propulsion systems.

Boeing emphasized the company has isolated the cause of the electrical problem and has instituted design changes to prevent a repeat of the difficulties on satellites still under construction. Several industry analysts caution that it is too early to measure the full extent of the technical problems or their economic consequences. Boeing believes the in-orbit power degradation should not result in “a major impact” on any operator.

 

 


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SPACEandTECH Digest is a weekly roundup of the latest industry news of interest to the space professional. SPACEandTECH Flash! is an internet push service offered by Andrews Space & Technology to bring the latest on orders, launches, and important breaking news to your desktop. SPACEandTECH Digest and SPACEandTECH Flash! are part of the Andrews Space & Technology www.spaceandtech.com website, a website designed to serve the information needs of the space industry.

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September 28, 2001

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