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Billion-dollar Project Botched?

Europe is in the process of assembling a civilian-operated satellite navigation system, designed to deliver greater precision than the U.S.’s Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite constellation, to the tune of 5.4 billion Euro.

The full project calls for 30 modern satellites to be positioned precisely into orbit over the next few years. This week, however, the European Space Agency (ESA) hit a snag when two satellites intended for the Galileo circular constellation were launched into the wrong positions.

The ESA contracted Arianespace SA, a French company founded in 1980 as a commercial space transportation company (officials claim it is the very first, in fact), to launch the satellites into orbit. So, what went wrong?

An initial report from Arianespace indicates that on 22 August 2014, at 9:27 am local time in French Guiana, a Soyuz ST rocket lifted off with the first two satellites in the Galileo constellation.


“The liftoff and first part of the mission proceeded [normally], leading to release of the satellites according to the planned timetable, and reception of signals from the satellites,” the report reads. Following the separation of the satellites from the Russian-made Soyuz ST rocket, data from telemetry stations operated by the ESA and the French space agency CNES indicated that the satellites were not in the expected orbit.

“The targeted orbit was circular, inclined at 55 degrees with a semi major axis of 29,900 kilometers,” the report continues. “The satellites are now in an elliptical orbit, with eccentricity of 0.23, a semi major axis of 26,200 km and inclined at 49.8 degrees.”

This and other military and aerospace (mil/aero) geeks are now wondering, “What now?”

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[…] Arianespace in France launched two satellites on the Russian Soyuz ST rocket. Telemetry data soon revealed that the spacecraft were placed in elliptical (rather than circular) orbit and in a lower orbit than anticipated; as a result, the satellites are operationally redundant, aerospace engineers indicate. […]
Insanity! Now what? Can you nudge the satellites? Is it dangerous?

12:29 AM Aug 30, 2014

The cubesats are intended to form a network around Earth and snap a photo of the whole planet every 24 hours. There are a total of 32 satellites intended for the project and of the 12 launched so far four were launched automagically (I know it's not a word but it fits). If they adjust the launch of the remaining cubesats they anticipate that the goals of the mission will not suffer.

J VanDomelen
4:26 PM Oct 31, 2014

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