The Arcturus satellite is en route to geosynchronous orbit.
Satellite internet service provider Astranis said Friday that its first commercial satellite in orbit, which was supposed to provide coverage to Alaska, failed. A spare satellite is planned for launch in the spring.
It was an early setback for its unique approach to delivering internet service to remote, underserved communities. Astranis announced in May that Arcturus was running “flawlessly” and that it would start serving Alaskans as soon as mid-June.
The company said it had problems with two solar arrays on its Arcturus satellite. Astranis CEO John Gedmark told CNBC that the issue “first arose a few weeks ago.” On Monday, the company determined the root cause, which was that the solar array drive components were manufactured by a supplier other than Astranis.
“Solar array drives are the motors that spin the solar arrays to make sure they’re always pointing toward the sun, and then transmit power back to the spacecraft. So if they stop responding and stop spinning … you end up not getting all the power you need,” Gedmark said.
Gedmark said the lack of power from the solar panels means its broadband communications “cannot operate at full capacity,” but Astranis has already identified the problem and knows how to fix it on future satellites.
Additionally, Atranis has “full control” of Arcturus, the company said.
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The company declined to name the suppliers that provide the drivers for the solar arrays. Gedmark confirmed on Friday that components made by Astranis had been working before the solar array problems. The company has successfully completed an early demonstration connecting remote areas of Alaska.
The San Francisco-based company is taking An alternative method of providing internet access via satellite, plans have been developed to bridge the coverage gap in Alaska.
Astranis will launch the previously unannounced “UtilitySat” as part of a four-satellite launch later this year. Gerdmark described it as the “Swiss Army Knife of satellites.”
Unlike Astranis’ commercial satellites, UtilitySat has more multi-bands but lower capacity, meaning it provides about 3 gigabytes per second of coverage, rather than commercial satellites’ nearly 9 gigabytes per second of coverage.
“We’ve built into our model that we’re going to put some spare and spare satellites in orbit that can be used for a bridging capability[or]for more secondary missions,” Gedmark said.
Astranis expects the UtilitySat to begin serving Alaska next spring. Gedmark said the company expects a “full replacement” in early 2025.
In the meantime, Atranis will continue to look for ways to possibly restore Arcturus or use it as a demonstration platform.
Gerdmark suggested the company could use it to test connections “that we might demonstrate anti-jamming capabilities in our work with our Space Force partners.”