SES Experiencing Power Module Glitches in New O3b mPower Satellites

SES, a Luxembourgish satellite telecommunications network provider, has been launching its next generation MEO O3b mPower telecom satellites since December of last year. To date, SES has 4 of these satellites in orbit, launched two at a time by SpaceX in December and April, but the latest pair will be delayed due to observed glitches in the power modules.

All 4 of the recently deployed O3b mPower satellites have been experiencing a glitch which sporadically trips off power modules on the spacecraft in orbit. CEO Ruy Pinto stated the company is not overly concerned, and that the trip-offs were resolved quickly through a power cycling activity. SES has delayed launch of the next pair of their satellites in order to conduct additional testing to help identify the root cause of the glitch. The company has tentatively slipped the launch date from the end of June to end of September, but did not provide information on whether they have been able to identify the cause of the faults.

Speculatively, there are many different factors which could act as the origin of this problem, some of which may not be easily identified or tested for. Programming bugs, radiation effects, hardware defects, or cybersecurity infiltration could all be likely candidates for a failure such as this. Problems like these can be difficult to track down, and if SES cannot identify a root cause with their additional testing on ground the implications could point to tampering of their satellite vehicle. Unfortunately, it is likely SES will not reveal the root cause once it is identified, so the true cause may never be known.

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