Two satellites for Europe’s version of American GPS go into wrong orbit, causing setback

Two satellites for Europe's planned Galileo network have lost their way.

The European Space Agency and the European Union have long been developing their own version of American GPS, a space-based satellite navigation system. The European network is a €5 billion project called Galileo, after the famed astronomer, and it was supposed to conclude in 2019, with 27 satellites and 3 spares orbiting 14,600 miles above Earth. A setback occured on 23 August however and might result in major delays.

Two satellites have gone into the wrong orbit. Although they were launched from French Guiana after a 24-hour delay due to bad weather, the two satellties failed to attain their intended orbit. It’s not clear why there was a malfunction. An investigation into the setback and what exactly happened has begun, but it is currently being described as an “anomaly”, according to a statement released by Arianespace, the company responsible for the launch.

The satellites, called Doresa and Milena, were fired into space on a Russian-made Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana on Friday. The targeted orbit was circular, but the satellites went into an elliptical orbit. Initial analyses has revealed an anomaly might have occurred during the flight phase involving the Fregat upper stage, causing the satellites to be injected into a noncompliant orbit. That said, Arianespace claimed the satellites pose no risk to people on the ground.

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"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 and to draw conclusions and develop corrective actions," explained Arianespace. "While it is too early to determine the exact causes, we would like to offer our sincere excuses to ESA and the European Commission for this orbital injection that did not meet expectations."

Doresa and Milena were the fifth and sixth satellites to be launched, following the first two satellites in 2011 and another two in 2012. A further 12 satellites were expected to launch next year, though this setback might mean new delays for Galileo.



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