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Service being restored after communications satellite glitch


Area covered by GE-3 satellite

CNN's Miles O'Brien explains the cause of the satellite failure
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March 12, 1999
Web posted at: 12:32 p.m. EST (1732 GMT)

PRINCETON, New Jersey (CNN) -- A gyroscope problem knocked out a communications satellite serving all of North America for several hours Friday, disrupting service to media organizations including the Public Broadcasting Service and The Associated Press.

The disruption also affected some of the services provided by CNN, NBC, Dow Jones and the Fox Network, plus national distribution of several local television stations, including KTLA in Los Angeles and WPIX in New York.

The gyroscope trouble caused the satellite, GE Americom's GE-3, to spin out of control for about five hours. Engineers had stabilized the satellite by 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT) and service was being restored, according to Princeton-based General Electric American Communications.

"We were able to re-acquire the satellite and are bringing it back on," said Fred Cain of GE Americom.

The satellite uses gyroscopes to maintain its position in space. The failure occurred about 4 a.m. EST (0900 GMT), causing GE-3 to tilt away from Earth. There was no immediate word from GE American on what caused the problem.

Programming shifted to other satellites

Most of the communications companies using GE-3 have "protected contracts," which call for GE Americom to move their signals to other satellites, the company said.

PBS said its programming was shifted for a time to GE Americom's GE-1 satellite. In order to do that, General Electric -- which owns NBC -- had to interrupt transmission of NBC's Newschannel feed to its television affiliates.

GE-3 is virtually the only carrier for PBS's national network, which distributes programs to local public television outlets via the satellite.

Local PBS stations were still able to broadcast live programming and taped shows.

For a time, the outage affected home satellite reception of such Turner Broadcasting networks as CNNfn, CNN International, CNN-Sports Illustrated and the Turner Classic Movies channel.

It also temporarily disrupted CNN's Newsource news feed to 600 local television stations.

Dow Jones said the impact at its operation was minimal. It had already used the satellite to transmit pages of Friday's Wall Street Journal to printing plants around the country, and transmissions of its Barron's magazine pages weren't scheduled to begin until Friday evening, spokesman Richard Tofel said.

The Associated Press said its services were fully restored shortly before 9 a.m. EST.

In addition to sending new stories to clients in North America via GE-2, The AP also uses the satellite to relay some services to Asia and Latin America. Other satellites used by The AP to deliver its services were not affected by the outage.

GE-3 was put in service in September 1997 and has an expected life of 12 to 15 years.

In May 1998, a failure of the Galaxy-4 satellite disrupted pager services nationwide for several days.

Satellite outage renews security concerns
May 22, 1998
Galaxy 4 satellite not expected to be restored
May 20, 1998
Why did satellite Galaxy 4 go off course?
May 20, 1998

GE American Communications
IPS Radio and Space Services
Satellite Services: Down to Earth and Ready for Business
December 1997
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