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IntelSat Regains Control Of Satellite

By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2004; Page E01

Commercial satellite operator Intelsat Ltd. has regained control of a key satellite that it lost track of last weekend.

Intelsat Vice President of Investor Relations Dianne VanBeber said yesterday that engineers had feared Sunday night that the communications satellite wouldn't be found, and the company announced its loss. But Monday, the satellite began sending basic information back to Earth. In effect, she said, it was signaling, "Here I am, send me a command."

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Throughout the week, engineers were able to increase control, she said, and they restored service to a number of customers Thursday night and yesterday. But VanBeber said engineers do not know why the satellite suffered a "sudden and unexpected power loss" and do not know if they will be able to fully restore service.

Within hours of Sunday's loss, Intelsat switched many customers, including the Playboy Channel and the Nebraska lottery system, to some of its other 27 satellites. But 20,000 customers of StarBand Communications Inc., a McLean satellite Internet service provider, were left without service.

StarBand managed to move 1,000 customers to another satellite. However, most customers were without an Internet connection until Intelsat began restoring service, according to Howard Lossing, StarBand's vice president of marketing.

Lossing said StarBand officials were confident that the satellite loss was an anomaly. Intelsat hadn't lost a satellite since 1972. "This is one of those things that simply doesn't happen," he said. "We have no concern about it happening again."

VanBeber said it's unclear whether Intelsat can revive enough transponders on the satellite to guarantee its $5 billion deal to sell the company to Zeus Holdings Ltd., a group of four venture capital firms. Zeus can walk away from the deal under certain conditions.

"We have not yet restored enough of the satellite to attain that goal, but the recovery mission is still underway and further progress could be made in the coming days," VanBeber said.

Intelsat is incorporated in Bermuda, but most of its workforce of about 850 employees is based in Washington.

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