Arianespace seeks clarity over why two Galileo satellites went into wrong orbit

Arianespace said it intends to find out why the fifth and sixth satellites launched as part of the Galileo constellation ended up in the wrong orbit, an event that marks a further setback for Europe's answer to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).

The company, which has been part of the European Commission-funded satellite programme since the start and works in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) and other industrial partners, confirmed that the first two satellites in a series of 22 FOC Full Operational Capability (FOC) models built by OHB System did not end up in the expected orbit.

Arianespace said the targeted orbit was circular, inclined at 55 degrees with a semi major axis of 29,900 kilometres. The satellites are now in an elliptical orbit, however. The launch took place on Aug. 22 at 09:27am local time from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG).

This latest "anomaly" is expected to further delay the already tardy programme, adding more pressure to the budget. In 2011, the European Commission set the budget for the programme at €7 billion until 2020.

"Our aim is of course to fully understand this anomaly," said Stéphane Israël, chairman and CEO of Arianespace. "Starting Monday, Arianespace, in association with ESA and the European Commission, will designate an independent inquiry board to determine the exact causes of this anomaly."

If successful, the two new satellites would have joined four in-orbit validation (IOV) satellites that were launched in 2011 and 2012. Two experimental satellites, Giove-A and Giove-B, were launched in 2008.

Two more FOC satellites are scheduled for launch in the fourth quarter of this year. As things stand, the complete Galileo constellation is set to consist of 30 satellites. The goal had been to have 18 satellites in place by 2015, followed by the rest in 2020.

The objective of Galileo is to give Europe its own satellite navigation system that offers high-precision location services and would operate independently of other global navigation satellite services, in particular the GPS system.

The expected benefits are considerable: in 2011 the European Union said the system established under the Galileo programme is expected to deliver €90 billion over 20 years, in terms of additional revenues for industry, and in public and social benefits.

For more:
- see this Arianespace release

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