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Rough Week For Satellites

This hasn't been a good week for some satellite makers. Satelites Mexicanos SA's Solaridad I satellite went quiet Sunday, disrupting service to automatic bank tellers, radios, televisions, beepers, and telephones throughout North and Central America. The $250 million Solaridad I, launched in 1993 and expected to last through 2006, now joins the rest of the space junk orbiting Earth, while Satmex works to redirect services for the satellite's 107 clients and commission the creation of a replacement satellite to be launched within the next two years.

Satellite manufacturer and service provider Loral Space & Communications Ltd., which owns 49% of Satmex, is the most likely candidate to build a replacement for the Solaridad I space ghost, which was built by Hughes Electronics Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors Corp. Loral, however, is facing a more earthly conundrum: The company's engineers damaged a Sirius-4 satellite they're building for Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.

Although Loral is responsible for any costs associated with repairs to the Sirius-4, further details on the cause and extent of the damage will not be released until an investigation is completed in September, according to a Sirius spokeswoman. Sirius is building a system to broadcast up to 100 channels of music and talk radio across the United States.

Unplanned satellite outages are rare and usually occur immediately after launch, when few customers are affected, says Ron England, president of media distribution for Media DVX Inc., a privately held distributor of media content. Outages are more likely to affect smaller content receivers and distributors that rely on a single satellite for sending and receiving information. Says England, "Larger broadcasters generally buy transponders on different satellites, so if one goes down there isn't a major interruption to service."

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