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ORBCOMM Satellite Launched by Falcon 9 Has Fallen to Earth

The OG2 satellite being prepared for testing. Credit: ORBCOMM

The satellite that was launched to orbit as a secondary payload by the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on October 7, 2012 has deorbited, falling back to Earth. The ORBCOMM OG2 satellite was a prototype communications satellite that was launched along with the Dragon capsule for the CRS-1 resupply mission to the International Space Station. The satellite was sent into the wrong orbit as a result of “a pre-imposed safety check required by NASA,” ORBCOMM said today in a press release, after the engine anomaly where one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued. The rocket was prevented from performing a second burn for safety reasons and the satellite was left in a lower orbit than intended.

“The safety check was designed to protect the International Space Station and its crew,” the ORBCOMM press release said. “Had ORBCOMM been the primary payload on this mission, as planned for the upcoming launches, we believe the OG2 prototype would have reached the desired orbit.”

ORBCOMM had said earlier they were checking into the possibility of whether onboard propulsion could be used to boost the OG2 into a higher orbit, but obviously that was unsuccessful. They did say today, however that while the OG2 was in orbit for its much-shortened time frame, they were able to obtain engineering data and “made significant strides in testing various hardware components,” including an antenna that was deployed and basic functions of the satellite that were successfully turned on.

The company added that with the verifications they were able to achieve, they can now forge ahead and focus on completing and launching the more OG2 satellites, and they plan on using SpaceX to deliver them to orbit. But next time the satellites will be the primary mission payloads on two planned Falcon 9 launches, one in mid-2013 and another in 2014, putting them directly into their operational orbit.

“We appreciate the complexity and work that SpaceX put into this launch,” stated Marc Eisenberg, ORBCOMM’s CEO. “SpaceX has been a supportive partner, and we are highly confident in their team and technology.”

The OG2 satellite was supposed be in a final 750×750 km orbit, but the company didn’t verify the orbit it did end up in. According to Jonathan’s Space Report, OG2 was ejected at 0137 UTC into a 203×323 km orbit, instead of its planned 350×750 km insertion orbit. Another satellite tracker, T.S. Kelso said via Twitter that it was in a 318 x 194km orbit.

A call to ORBCOMM to verify the orbit and location of de-orbit wasn’t immediately returned.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • CJSF October 11, 2012, 8:18 PM

    I don’t get how preventing the 2nd stage from igniting has anything to do with the failure of a first stage engine. There was no reason not to deploy this satellite correctly. The fault is NASA’s, not SpaceX.

    CJSF

    • Ken Lord October 11, 2012, 9:22 PM

      Imagine if the first stage problem had caused damage to the second stage rocket. Given the trajectory it was launched with, if the second stage exploded, imagine the ever expanding cloud of shrapnel that could have been put into an orbit conflicting with the space station.

      Now consider the cost of the space station, and the lives on board, compared to that of a prototype test satellite (that likely had some insurance coverage).

      The risk might have been small, but the potential cost was beyond extreme.

      • ILikeFish October 11, 2012, 9:33 PM

        Great response, very thoughtful.

      • David, Project Soar October 12, 2012, 12:39 AM

        There is absolutely no way that this could happen. In order to reach orbit, the 2nd stage has to fire for a prolonged period of time after separation from the 1st stage. In fact, the majority of velocity needed to reach orbit is achieved via the 2nd stage. Even had fragment-generating damage occurred to the 2nd stage, this debris would have been left behind and never reached any orbit.

      • CallanTFC October 12, 2012, 1:52 AM

        Insurance was my question. Where does the liability lie here? With SpaceX? Nasa? ORBCOMM? Rough, either way.

        • Raimo Kangasniemi October 12, 2012, 11:41 AM

          SpaceX, because they were greedy enough to try to do two very different missions on one flight.

      • Warren White October 12, 2012, 3:45 AM

        The risk might have been small, but the potential cost was beyond extreme.
        ====== =
        With your logic, no one should EVER launch another thing to orbit, because it might explode and a piece strike ISS..
        There are already TENS OF THOUSANDS of pieces of ‘space junk’… the Falcon/Orbcom was nearly 20,000 miles from ISS at the time..
        This was an irrational Nasa demand.

    • Jonathan Yao October 11, 2012, 9:35 PM

      It’s because of the failure of the first stage engine, the spacecraft
      was not in the exact orbit it needed to launch the ORBCOMM satellite.
      Extra burn time was needed to get Dragon to the ISS but that put the
      satellite out of its intended transfer orbit. It would have needed an
      additional unplanned burn to get it into the transfer orbit which NASA
      would not allow.

  • SJStar October 12, 2012, 11:27 AM

    Again it shows the undeniable risks of corporate-aligned space exploration. It shows immediately the flaws and possible legal implications of serious mistakes.

    I pointed out in earlier articles of this subject and was just laughed at. Now this has been shown to be absolutely true issue.

    I think there are real doubts on the propaganda claims that we should be “highly confident in their team and technology.” In reality, it is the opposite of this.

    • Torbjörn Larsson October 12, 2012, 4:54 PM

      You do realize so called anomalies are part of space business still? The STS had them all the time, the ISS has them, why should we expect any space company be different?

      A successful demonstration of the engine out capability heightens confidence, naturally. This seems to be a robust launcher concept after all. (Remember the Falcon 1? Not so good.)

  • Raimo Kangasniemi October 12, 2012, 11:40 AM

    Another great success for private space enterprise.

  • spell7 October 12, 2012, 2:04 PM

    Kudos to the guys responsible for off-design performance!

    Considering the fact that space agencies world wide with years (if not decades) of experience still have launch failures, I don’t get too worked up about this incident. The primary mission was a success. The legal and financial responsibilities will be figured out and the private launch industry will continue to develop.

  • Atanu Maulik October 12, 2012, 3:12 PM

    A reality check for SpaceX and their over enthusiastic supporters.

    • Torbjörn Larsson October 12, 2012, 4:49 PM

      SpaceX hatebois are funny when they attack fanbois, as they are part of the overall testament to the company’s success.

      • Olaf2 October 13, 2012, 12:28 AM

        It is not about hate, it is putting their feet back on the ground.
        SpaceX is way too much verhyped at this point and the fanboys think that SpaceX is the best thing next to to sliced bread. However SpaceX is a commercial company and a commercial company will use advertising techniques to get more money. A commercial company will also hide the truth (e.g. parts that are not designed correctly or a rush job) in order not to lose investors. (I have worked in many commercial companies, I know the internal workings)

        You cannot state that Dragon is a success at this point, since it failed the objectives and clearly shows that they still need work to do to design it even better. I just hope that they do not have a fatal design flaw.

        Now I am not against SpaceX, but they do have a lot of engineering and software costs to make it even better and I guarantee you that this can easily double or triple the cost of the rocket. It will also take a lot of time to correct these problems. In the end it will not be cheaper than an NASA engineered rocket.

        I have no doubt that the engineers and software developers are very talented people. The question is, will they get enough time and resources to do the job correctly or will they be forced in rush jobs and short cuts in order to keep the project on schedule. Do these people have enough time to recover and not be pushed into a burn out because there are not enough people for the job?

    • Chetan Chauhan October 12, 2012, 5:18 PM

      The reality is that successfully delivered on its mission.
      400kg of supplies were loaded into Dragon and they all reached the ISS safely. While going back down, Dragon will also “take away the trash”.
      The OG2 could not be delivered because the primary mission was delivering cargo to the ISS

  • Les Legato October 12, 2012, 3:42 PM

    “The company added that with the verifications they were able to achieve, they can now forge ahead and focus on completing and launching the more OG2 satellites, and they plan on using SpaceX to deliver them to orbit.”

    They will need to donate more to Obama’s campaign and Musk (big obama bundler getting billions in no-bid tax payer subsidies) can then try harder to make sure that their satellite reaches the proper orbit.

    Obama funder gets insider deal at NASA:

    http://washingtonexaminer.com/obama-funder-gets-insider-deal-at-nasa/article/2510466#.UHg6VY7udsA

  • Aqua4U October 14, 2012, 2:26 AM

    Live and learn… tvist an turn! Figure it out and give us a shout! GO Space X!

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