• The Boeing-made Spaceway-1 suffered significant battery damage back in December
  • There is a risk that the large satellite's battery cells could explode
  • DirecTV is now asking for FCC's permission to take Spaceway-1 out of its normal orbit

A Boeing-made satellite owned by AT&T’s DirecTV suffered major battery damage in December. According to DirecTV, there is a “significant risk” that the large broadcast satellite in orbit could explode.

FCC Request

In a special request to the Federal Communications Commission, DirecTV asked for the agency’s permission to remove its Spaceway-1 satellite from the orbital zone where other big communications satellites also are. Evidently, Spaceway-1’s batteries suffered major and irreversible thermal damage that could eventually cause the battery cells to explode.

So far, Spaceway-1 is relying on solar power to operate, but it must be taken out of orbit before Feb. 25 when the satellite’s orbit will take it to the Earth’s shadow. There, it will be forced to rely on the faulty batteries, thereby increasing the risk for major battery failure.

The plan now is to discharge the satellite's remaining fuel and move it about 186 miles above the geostationary arc where it could indefinitely stay far from other orbiting satellites. This way, the risk of an explosion that can impact other orbiting satellites is lowered.


Spaceway-1 is a Boeing 702-model satellite that was launched in 2005 as a back-up for customers in Alaska. AT&T is not anticipating any customer service problems once they retire Spaceway-1, but the company will replace the satellite with a newer one.

When it experienced the battery malfunction, it was already several years older than its expected lifespan of 12 years.

Space Debris Problem

In an interview with Bloomberg, senior engineering specialist Roger Thompson said that battery explosions are not things that can simply be brushed aside. In fact, NASA has so far recorded nine battery explosions that resulted in over 1,500 fragments.

Such new additions to space debris pose a significant danger to other spacecraft as even debris just over a centimeter in length can already cause catastrophic damage. In fact, as of 2019, the European Space Agency has been closely monitoring more than 8,400 tons of objects while the American military is also tracking about 23,000 man-made objects that are in orbit.

Whether it explodes or not, Spaceway-1 will soon be added to the list of inactive space satellites that need to be monitored. So far, out of the over 5,000 satellites in space, less than half are still functioning.

Image: Artist illustration of a satellite in orbit. Pixabay