Galileo Satellites Launched Into Wrong Orbit

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The two Galileo navigation satellites launched on Friday have entered a ‘noncompliant orbit’, space officials said

European space officials have confirmed that the two Galileo satellites launched on Friday have entered into the wrong orbit.

The satellites, launched from Kourou, French Guiana, aboard a Russian-designed Soyuz rocket, are part of the Galileo satellite-navigation system, intended as a rival to the US’ Global Positioning System (GPS).

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‘Noncompliant orbit’

The Galileo satellites were designed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and launched by Arianespace, a pan-European company with stakeholders in government and in the private sector. Galileo has cost £4.8 billion to date and has a total budget of £7bn.

Arianespace initially said the launch had been successful, but about two hours later confirmed that the satellites appeared to have gone into a “noncompliant orbit”.

“Complementary observations gathered after separation of the Galileo FOC M1 satellites on Soyuz Flight VS09 have highlighted a discrepancy between targeted and reached orbit,” Arianespace said in a statement.

The European Commission said the satellites are “responding, providing the signal and safely being controlled by the European Space Agency’s Operations Centre.”

The satellites are roughly 2,000 miles off their intended positions, in elliptical rather than circular orbits, according to unnamed space officials cited by the Wall Street Journal.

Rescue plans

The officials said that in a best-case scenario, the satellites could be shifted into their intended orbits by using some of the stock of fuel necessary for maintaining the satellites in their correct positions, a move which would greatly reduce their projected lifespan.

The error seems to have been caused by a problem with the guidance system of the upper stage of the Soyuz rocket, according to the ESA and Arianespace. Arianespace’s eight previous Soyuz launches were completed successfully, and the company also completed 50 launches of its Ariane 5 launch vehicle without problems.

The Prague-based Galileo organisation launched its first two satellites in 2011, two more in 2012 and another two last week. The remaining 24 satellites are to be launched over the next year or so.

Arianespace said the project, intended to be fully active by 2017, will support the creation of between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs in the EU.

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