Galileo satellites sent into wrong orbit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 4:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 4:19am

European space officials are investigating whether faulty stationing of two satellites will complicate efforts to develop a Galileo navigation system that would rival the US GPS network.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and launch company Arianespace say the satellites were in off-target orbits after being launched on Friday from Kourou, French Guiana, aboard a Soyuz rocket.

It did not explain whether the orbital paths could be corrected. Arianespace said the satellites settled into a lower, elliptical orbit instead of the circular one intended, and initial analyses suggested the mishap occurred during the flight phase and involved the Fregat upper stage of Soyuz.

"Our aim is, of course, to fully understand this anomaly," Stephane Israel, Arianespace chairman, said. "While it is too early to determine the exact causes, we would like to offer our sincere excuses to ESA and the European Commission for this orbital injection that did not meet expectations."

Israel said Arianespace, ESA and the commission will create an independent panel to investigate what caused the inaccurate deployment and to develop corrective actions so Soyuz launches can resume.

The European Union hopes to have its 30-satellite Galileo navigation network operating fully by 2020. The Prague-based programme oversaw the launch of its first two satellites in 2011, two more in 2012, and two more on Friday.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the French space agency CNES, said the investigation still needed to determine precisely how far off course the satellites were.

He said European Space Agency experts in Toulouse, France, and Darmstadt, Germany, were calculating whether small motors inside the satellites would be strong enough to push them into the correct orbits.

If the two satellites could not be pushed to the correct altitude above the earth, he said, subsequent satellites launched would have to correct the error.

The programme has faced other delays and operational mishaps.

ESA officials said on Wednesday they had to reduce the strength of another Galileo satellite's signal because of unspecified problems.


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