The European Union’s Friday launch of two Galileo satellites from French Guiana was not completely successful, for the satellites never made it to the orbit they were supposed to be ‘dropped’ into. The European Space Agency says that those satellites are still under control and are successfully being operated from the European Space Operations Center, Germany. The satellites were launched on a Soyuz ST-B rocket operated by Arianespace, a French company known for being the world’s first commercial space transportation provider. The controllers are now analyzing and pondering about the options they have to salvage the satellites. This discrepancy between targeted and reached orbit was first reported on Arianespace website on Friday.
Since the control is not yet lost, the controllers do have a chance to make things right, although no info has been provided by the officials involved regarding the options they are exploring.
European Union’s ambitious project is supposed to provide GPS like functionality for the European countries. A total of thirty satellites are to be launched to complete the Galileo Global Navigation System, with six satellites (including the ones in the wrong orbit) having been launched as of now.
Twelve of the remaining satellites will be launched using six Soyuz rockets and the others will go to space aboard three Ariane 5 ES rockets.
The need for developing an independent satellite based navigation system was felt after it became common knowledge that position information from GPS can be made significantly inaccurate by the deliberate application of universal Selective Availability (SA) by the US military, which is not desirable in the civil applications of such navigation systems (like plane navigation and landing).
The satellites which have been put into the wrong orbit are named after the children who won a European Commission-organized painting competition in 2011.
The satellites weigh 700 kgs and contain two Passive Hydrogen atomic clocks; two Rubidium atomic clocks, Clock monitoring and control unit, Navigation signal generator unit, L-band antenna for navigation signal transmission, C-band antenna for uplink signal detection, two S-band antennas for telemetry and tele-commands and a search and rescue antenna.
Well, the operators could try to correct their trajectories, but I honestly don’t know if that’s possible. Their return on the planet is highly unlikely, and I believe the chances of their ‘abandonment’ by the EU are actually quite high.
NasaSpaceFlight provides an excellent report detailing all the elements involved in this launch, and it could be found here.