CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION – Despite howling winds and unseasonably frigid temperatures in the ‘sunshine state’, United Launch Alliance’s workhorse Atlas V rocket successfully blasted off this morning, Friday, Feb 5, and delivered the final GPS satellite in the IIF series to orbit for the US Air Force.
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).
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).