EU Demands Answers on Galileo Launch Mishap

EU Demands Answers on Galileo Launch Mishap

The European Commission (EC), the executive body of the European Union (EU), is demanding answers from Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) on why two of its Galileo navigation satellites were placed into the wrong orbit last week.  The satellites were launched by Arianespace on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Arianespace’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

In a statement yesterday (August 25), the EC said it had “invited” ESA and Arianespace to its headquarters in Brussels to present initial results next week.  The EC is participating in the Board of Inquiry and says preliminary results are expected “in the first half of September.”  It wants ESA and Arianespace to provide “full details of the incident, together with a schedule and an action plan to rectify the problem.”

Also yesterday, Arianespace named an independent inquiry commission headed by Peter Dubock, former Inspector General of ESA, and said its initial conclusions will be submitted “as early as September 8, 2014.”  Alexander Daniluk, Deputy Director General of Russia’s TsNIImash, will serve as a liaison between the Arianespace inquiry and one being conducted in Russia.

The August 22 launch of the Soyuz ST-B rocket initially looked good, but later analysis showed that the two satellites were not placed into the correct orbit apparently due to a failure of the Fregat upper stage.  Instead of ending up in a 29,900 kilometer circular orbit inclined at 55 degrees, they are in a 26,200 kilometer elliptical orbit (eccentricity 0.23) inclined at 49.8 degrees.

These are the first two “Full Operational Capability” (FOC) Galileo satellites, the initial launches towards an eventual 30-satellite constellation to provide positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) services similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).   Four “In-Orbit Validation” (IOV) satellites were launched in 2011 and 2012 using the same type of rocket.  Last week’s FOC launch was to herald the beginning of the fully operational phase.

Russian Soyuz rockets are launched from Kourou through a partnership among Russia’s space agency (Roscosmos), two Russian manufacturers (RKTs-Progress, which builds Soyuz, and NPO Lavochkin, which builds Fregat) and Arianespace.   The Soyuz rocket has been in use since the beginning of the Space Age, though it has been upgraded many times over those decades.  Russia’s enviable track record of launch successes began deteriorating in 2010 and a solution to those woes is proving elusive.   Russian government and industry officials have been fired and a complete restructuring of the Russian space industry is underway, but failures continue.  The venerable Proton rocket suffered yet another failure in May and has not yet returned to flight.

ESA and the EU shared the cost of the IOV phase of the Galileo program.  The EU is fully funding the FOC operational phase, which is managed by the EC with ESA as its design and procurement agent.  A 2011 EU document says that the IOV phase cost €2100 million, a substantial increase over the €1100 million estimate, and the EU had allocated €3405 million for the FOC phase.  Today, one Euro (€) is $1.32.  In today’s dollars, then, the IOV phase cost about $2.8 billion and the operational phase is projected to cost about $5 billion.  That estimate could change, of course, because of this failure.

The EC hopes to have the full complement of 30 satellites in orbit before the end of this decade.  The remaining satellites are to be launched on a combination of Soyuz and Ariane V rockets.

Galileo is designed to operate autonomously, but also is interoperable with the U.S. GPS and Russia’s GLONASS systems.  (China is building its own global navigation satellite system, Beidou-2).

ESA said today that the two satellites are “safely under control” by the ESA/CNES team at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. CNES is the French space agency.  The satellites were built by Germany’s OHB AG.   ESA said that it is working with CNES and OHB to determine how to best utilize the satellites despite the incorrect orbit.   The solar panels on one of the two satellites were fully deployed as of yesterday and those on the second satellite were expected to be deployed soon, meaning that they have power to function.

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