A TV communications satellite is drifting out of control thousands of miles above the Earth, threatening to wander into another satellite's orbit and interfere with cable programming across the US, the satellites' owners said.
Communications company Intelsat said it lost control of the Galaxy 15 satellite on April 5, possibly because the satellite's systems were knocked out by a solar storm.
Intelsat cannot remotely steer the satellite to remain in its orbit, so Galaxy 15 is creeping towards the adjacent path of another TV communications satellite that serves US cable companies.
Galaxy 15 continues to receive and transmit satellite signals and they will probably overlap and interfere with signals from the second satellite, known as AMC 11, if Galaxy 15 drifts into its orbit as expected around May 23, according to the two satellite companies.
AMC 11 receives digital programming from cable television channels and transmits it to all US cable systems from its orbit 22,000 miles above the equator, SES World Skies said. It operates on the same frequencies as Galaxy 15.
"That fact means that there is likely to be some kind of interference," Yves Feltes, a spokesman for AMC 11 owner SES World Skies, said. "Our aim is to bring any interference down to zero." He would not name any of the cable television channels or providers that could be affected or say how long the interference could last.
DirecTV, the largest US satellite TV company, said it will not be affected. Comcast said it is monitoring the situation. Cox Communications said it could not immediately specify if its service will be affected and Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications and Cablevision Systems had no statements on the matter or did not return calls seeking comment.
Galaxy 15 was floating over the Pacific Ocean slightly to the east of Hawaii, said Emmet Fletcher, space surveillance and tracking manager for the Space Situational Awareness Programme at the European Space Agency, an 18-nation consortium.
He said Galaxy 15 was highly unusual because it continued to send out television signals, unlike other malfunctioning satellites that automatically went into complete shutdown when their navigational systems malfunctioned.
The dead satellites are still a threat to other satellites, but less of one than Galaxy 15 poses, Mr Fletcher said. "They'll just cruise around the geobelt, drifting wherever they go, potentially causing havoc, when you lose control of them," he said. The geobelt is the relatively narrow band of space where satellites can move in orbits that allow them to appear stationary in the sky in relation to specific points on Earth.