Disturbed space environment may have been related to pager satellite failure


  • D. N. Baker,

    1. Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Campus Box 590, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0590 USA
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  • J. H. Allen,

  • S. G. Kanekal,

  • G. D. Reeves


A very intense flux of electrons, evident in the magnetosphere earlier this year, may have caused a satellite failure (or at least exacerbated the situation) leading to the loss of pager service to 45 million customers, research has shown. The electrons, known as highly relativistic electrons (HREs), were especially numerous in the weeks preceding the failure. Researchers say HREs have triggered spacecraft anomalies in the past through a process of deep dielectric charging when fluxes are elevated. They therefore believe this energetic electron environment could have been behind the failure in the attitude control system of the Galaxy 4 spacecraft at 2200 UT on May 19,1998. A backup system also failed, either at the same time or earlier, so operators were unable to maintain a stable Earth link [Silverstein, 1998].