EC wants answers about botched satellites launch

26 Aug 2014

An artist's concept of one of the first two Galileo full operational capability satellites. Image via ESA-J. Huart, 2014

The European Commission (EC) has requested full details of the problems that caused the next satellites in Europe’s US$13.3bn Galileo satellite navigation system to launch into the incorrect orbit on Friday.

The two satellites, SAT 5 and SAT 6, blast off on 22 August from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, but were injected about 3,219km (2,000 miles) off their intended positions.

Concern could be the satellites may be stranded in unusable orbits and end up having to be destroyed, The Wall Street Journal reported space industry experts as having said, and if the spacecraft are saved, they could have shorter lifespans because of on-board fuel constraints.

The EC now wants commercial space transportation company Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) to provide full details of the incident, along with a schedule and action plan to correct the problem.

According to initial information from Arianespace, the problem involved a malfunction at the upper stage of the launcher.

The EC, meanwhile, has established an internal taskforce to monitor the situation and will participate in a board of inquiry set up to identify the sources of the problem and to implement corrective measures at the level of Arianespace.

Preliminary results from the inquiry are expected in the first half of September.

Both ESA and Arianespace have been invited to EC headquarters in Brussels to present the initial results of their inquiry to European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Ferdinando Nelli Feroci in the first week of September.

Current state of SAT 5 and SAT 6 Galileo satellites

As for the current state of the satellites, the ESA has told the EC its control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, has the satellites under control, although they are still not in their intended orbits.

The ESA said today controllers in Darmstadt “confirm the good health and the nominal behaviour of both satellites”.

SAT 5 and SAT 6 were to join four others already in orbit in the Galileo network. The two satellites were to have formed part of a group of 27 satellites and three reserves.

The goal of the Galileo network is to provide an alternative to global navigation systems, such as GPS.

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic