22nd Oct 2016

EU to investigate Galileo launch failure

  • The satellites are in an elliptical orbit some 17,000 kilometers above the earth instead of a circular one at 23,000 km (Photo: Gesa Henselmans)

The European Commission has set up an inquiry into the failure to correctly launch the latest two satellites of its ill-fated Galileo space programme.

The two satellites, Doresa and Milena, were launched from French Guiana, aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket last Friday, and are the fifth and sixth of 30 satellites scheduled to be launched as part of the scheme.

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  • The EU's Galileo satellite navigation system faces its latest setback after two satellites were launched into the wrong orbit. (Photo: wikipedia)

At the weekend the European Space Agency (ESA) informed the commission that its Control Centre in Darmstadt (Germany) has the satellites under control, but that they are not in their intended orbital position.

It said they are in an elliptical orbit some 17,000 kilometers above the earth instead of an intended circular one at 23,000 km.

In a statement released on Monday (25 August) the commission said that Arianespace, the French space transport company awarded the contract, and the European Space Agency (ESA) had been asked to provide a report on the incident, together with a schedule and a timeline to rectify the problem.

Arianespace and ESA are expected to report back to the EU executive in the first week of September, but in the meantime Arianespace refused to comment on whether it will be possible to put the satellites onto their correct orbit.

But commission sources have indicated that the satellites are now unlikely to be operational.

The commission is not in line for any compensation.

The incident is another setback for the EU’s space programme, which has so far cost taxpayers €6 billion and is expected to require a further €7 billion investment between now and 2020.

Industry commissioner Ferdinando Nelli Feroci said the errors were “very unfortunate”, but added that he is “convinced of the strategic importance of Galileo.”

“I am confident that the deployment of the constellation of satellites will continue as planned".

The Galileo programme is the EU’s bid to develop a global satellite navigation network to rival the US global positioning system (GPS).

EU governments want to be able to tap into the lucrative market for navigation satellite products and services such as street directions and navigation for drivers. The market was valued at €175 billion in 2013 and is expected to grow to €237 billion in 2020.

The EU programme has been dogged by repeated delays and over-spending, while some remain unconvinced there is a need to rival the GPS network.

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