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Understanding the Satellite Situation

On 22 Aug. 2014, Arianespace in France launched two satellites into orbit onboard a Russian Soyuz launch vehicle under contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for its Galileo program. News that the launch vehicle failed to inject Galileo satellites 5 and 6 into the correct orbit rocked the military and aerospace (mil/aero) community this month.

“Observations taken after the separation of the satellites from the Soyuz [rocket] for the Galileo Mission show a gap between the orbit achieved and that which was planned,” according to a statement by Arianespace. Moreover, “they have been placed on a lower orbit than expected.”


The European Commission (EC), the executive body of the 28-nation European Union (EU), has requested that Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) provide full details of the incident, as well as a schedule and an action plan to rectify the problem.

Arianespace, in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission, appointed an independent inquiry commission, chaired by Peter Dubock, former ESA Inspector General, to investigate. “Its mandate is to establish the circumstances of the anomaly, to identify the root causes and associated aggravating factors, and make recommendations to correct the identified defect and to allow for a safe return to flight for all Soyuz launches from the Guiana Space Center (CSG),” according to an Arianespace representative.

Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël explains that the Board was appointed in conjunction with ESA and the European Commission with the support of the space agencies from France (CNES), Germany (DLR), and Italy (ASI), as well as a team of European experts.

This mil/aero geek is anxious to hear the results, as are many in the EU and the aerospace community.

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