Rocket ‘Anomaly’ Blamed For Putting European Navigation Satellites Into Wrong Orbits

by Elizabeth Howell on August 26, 2014

The fifth and sixth Galileo navigation satellites launch Aug. 22, 2014 from French Guiana. Credit: European Space Agency

The fifth and sixth Galileo navigation satellites launch Aug. 22, 2014 from French Guiana. Credit: European Space Agency

An independent investigation committee is looking at why two European navigation satellites are in the wrong orbits following their launch from French Guiana last week.

While the first part of the launch went well, officials said telemetry from the satellites showed that the satellites were not where they were supposed to be. The probe is ongoing, but officials believe it is related to a stage of the Soyuz rocket that hefted the satellites into space.

“According to the initial analyses, an anomaly is thought to have occurred during the flight phase involving the Fregat upper stage, causing the satellites to be injected into a noncompliant orbit,” wrote launch provider Arianespace in an update on Saturday (Aug. 23).

Artist's conception of the completed Galileo navigation satellite system. Credit: ESA-P. Carril

Artist’s conception of the completed Galileo navigation satellite system. Credit: ESA-P. Carril

The same day, the European Space Agency added that officials are looking into how the mission would be affected, if at all.

The Galileo satellites, the fifth and sixth of the constellation, are intended to serve as part of a cloud of navigation satellites that would be a European alternative to the United States GPS system. Officials are hoping to launch six to eight more satellites per year until 2017, when 24 satellites and six backups will be ready for full service.

The satellites were supposed to be in a circular orbit, inclined at 55 degrees to the Earth’s equator and have a maximum orbital radius (semi-major axis) of 29,900 km (18,579 miles). Telemetry now shows the satellites are in a non-circular orbit inclined at 49.8 degrees, with a semi-major axis of 26,200 km (16,280 miles).

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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