Satellite Blues

Wow. SkyTV, New Zealand’s sole Pay TV provider is totally off the air across all of New Zealand tonight. Their support lines are overloaded, and even their website appears to be failing under the load of a million angry users attempting to get information. Angry users are venting their spleens in various public forums. My digital decoder box gives a lovely informative message: “The disturbance to your viewing is due to atmospheric conditions. Your picture will resume shortly.”

Slightly more informative messages point to the fact that the satellite had a major failure 18 months ago and was switched to its backup processor:


Optus B1 had some major failures last year and was (at least until 6:50pm tonight or so) running on it’s backup processor, at the time Sky was a bit concerned but consensus was that it would probably last a few more years on the backup (the sat had a life of 10 years, from it’s launch in 1992 – we are a long way past it’s expiry date). If that backup processor has failed then the sat will be uncontrollable and then Sky has big problems, either another sat has to be moved to that orbit which would take at least 1 week, probably longer, or they need to realign everybody to a new bird. Last I heard the Optus D class sat launches which were to replace the B class birds were indefinately delayed. Sky won’t be the only thing affected, B1 serves both Australia and New Zealand tv and other communications.


Wow. I can smell the cash burning… And of course there’s the obligatory spoof auction.

Update: the official word is that the satellite failed during a positioning manouvre, and it will take 3 hours to reposition it. This is fishy because:

  1. I thought it was a geostationary satellite (ok I stand corrected, geostationary satellites need nudging now and again), and
  2. surely it would have had to be moving out of position for 3 hours in order to take 3 hours to get back into position? Why did someone not spot it going out of position earlier?

Update 2: So the service is still offline 12 hours later. I call bullshit on the ‘repositioning’ claim. Either that or the original positioning failure was actually more massive and permanent than first realised.

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  1. The NZ spokesman for Sky declared on Thursday night that it was due to the eclipse – the story seemigly being that during the repositionong, the solar panels were unable to charge the batteries. Even he didn’t sound convinced or convincing.

    He also spoke of the back-up plan, though oddly it never seemed to get kicked into motion.

    On Friday a different spokesman painted a more plausible picture of the mechanics of satellite repositioning, and studiously avoided blaming the eclipse directly, although there was an oblique reference when he spoke of some delay in getting the repositionong going.

    Also never mentioned the back-up plan.

    14 hours of dead air is unforgiveable.

  2. I’m very, very suspicious too, but then what else explains a 14 hour outage that is recoverable? I would have thought if the backup SCP went tits-up, then it was all over.

    I guess maybe a glitch in the SCP that required a reboot? If the primary SCP was online, it would switch to the backup during the reboot, then come back online. With no backup, it might explain the spin and loss of position while the SCP was recovering?

  3. Actually, that explains it very well. I laughed like hell when they blamed the eclipse – B1 is in the shade for most of its time up there anyway!

  4. SkyNZ were definitely not the only ones affected. 4 of the 5 free to air networks in Australia were knocked out during the 13hr outage. Computer glitch during the manouver caused the bird to turn around almost 180 degrees. Optus owe a lot of people a lot of money

  5. So it appears trademe have withdrawn the auction, when will we be seeing it up here Guy?

  6. Oh thats unfortunate! What was the hit count up to? Any reason why they finally removed it?

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