Astranis has a slight issue with its recently launched internet satellite Arcturus, the company’s first. The satellite was intended to begin providing much-needed internet access to Alaska and other rural areas starting this summer. Roughly 40% of Alaskans don’t have reliable access to broadband internet.
After launching into orbit earlier this year Astranis now reports the satellite has malfunctioned. Arcturus simply wasn’t getting enough power to properly run, despite previous tests run in May showing the system was working perfectly. CNBC reports the problem became apparent only a few weeks ago.
While the cause is known and can be remedied for future satellites, the one currently circling the globe in geosynchronous orbit is out of commission. The problem was traced back to an unnamed vendor who provided Astranis with the solar array drives installed on Arcturus.
“Solar array drives are motors that rotate the solar arrays to make sure they’re always pointed at the sun, and they transmit that power back into the spacecraft. So if they stop responding and stop rotating … you don’t end up getting the full power that you need,” said John Gedmark, CEO of Astranis.
The company states they still have full control over the satellite. However, without the solar array devices operating at full capacity, the satellite does not have enough power to connect with rural residents.
Luckily for Astranis, Arcturus is a smaller-scale satellite that can be built quickly. The company already has a backup plan in progress to launch “the Swiss Army Knife of satellites” later this year.
“We’ve built into our model that we’re going to put up a number of these on-orbit spares and backup satellites that can be used to bridge capacity [or] for more secondary missions,” Gedmark said.
Dubbed UtilitySat, these satellites will offer more multiple-frequency bands. Instead of 9 gigabits per second, UtilitySat will provide 3 gigabits per second. They won’t carry the same capacity as Astranis’ commercial satellites but will provide Alaskans with coverage in the meantime.
UtilitySat will launch next spring and Astranis expects to have Arcturus’ replacement in place by 2025.