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Flawed instructions caused EU Galileo satellite launch error

European Space Agency says the satellites are under control, but off course
Mon Sep 01 2014, 13:15
Artist's impression of the satellites used for the Galileo satellite navigation project

FLAWED INSTRUCTIONS apparently caused two satellites launched as part of the European Space Agency (ESA) Galileo navigation project to enter the wrong orbit.

Russian news website Izvestia reported that a source close to the project said that an error in the instructions given to the Russian system used to launch the satellites caused the mishap. The INQUIRER translated the article using Google Translate.

The European Space Agency has not commented on the reports, but it did issue a statement last week saying that it had full operational control of the satellites. However, it is still unclear whether they will serve any benefit for the Galileo project from their incorrect orbits.

"Operations continue smoothly for Galileo Sat 5-6. Both satellites now have both sets of their solar arrays fully deployed and generating power," the ESA said. "The satellites are safely under control, despite having been released on a lower and elliptical orbit instead of the expected circular orbit on 22 August."

The ESA said its teams are working to understand how the satellites can be used to "maximum advantage", not ruling out the possibility of a recovery mission.

Satellites Doresa and Milena were launched on 22 August in French Guiana and took the total number of satellites in orbit as part of the Galileo project to six, one-fifth of the 30 satellites planned to be in orbit by 2020.

However, Arianespace, the company that organised the launch and had signed a €500m deal to provide future Galileo satellite launches, admitted later that an error had occurred.

The INQUIRER contacted the ESA for more information on the situation but had received no reply at the time of publication.

The Galileo project is the EC's attempt to move beyond its reliance on satellite navigation systems provided by the US and Russia, which are under military control and therefore present the risk that access could be removed.

The Galileo project, by contrast, is a civilian system, thereby eliminating this risk. Using a total of 30 satellites, it aims to provide better geolocation accurate to within a few centimetres. µ


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