Industrial & Medical Technology

Europe’s Galileo Satnav Hit By Satellite Failures

28 August 2014

Galileo, Europe's version of Global Positioning by Satellite (GPS), is in trouble after the fifth and sixth satellites of a proposed constellation of 30 satellites failed to arrive in the correct orbits on Friday August 22. The cost of the two satellites is hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Ferdinando Nelli Feroci said he remained confident that the deployment of satellites would continue as planned which would have 30 satellites in orbit towards the end of the decade.

Galileo is intended to work in cooperation with the US GPS and Russian Glonass systems while providing Europe with a strategic capability that could work independently and is not controlled externally. A large number of modern infrastructure resources depend on satellie positioning or time-stamp information from satellites including mobile phone networks.

The European Commission has requested full details of the failed launch from Arianespace, the launch services provider, and the European Space Agency (ESA) the co-partner in Galileo, following the failure to launch satellites 5 and 6 into the correct orbit. The satellites went up on a Soyuz rocket belonging to Arianespace from its launch site in Kourou, French Guinea.

Arianespace said that the lift off and initial phase of the mission went to plan leading to the release of the satellites and the reception of signals from them. However, it later turned out the orbit was lower than intended, elliptical rather than circular and inclined at the wrong angle.

The European Commission has requested Arianespace and ESA provide full details of the incident, together with a schedule and an action plan to rectify the problem.

"Our aim is of course to fully understand this anomaly," said Stephane Israel, CEO of Arianespace, in a statement "Everybody at Arianespace is totally focused on meeting this objective." Arianespace, ESA and the European Commission are setting up an inquiry board to determine what went wrong. The board will work with Russian partners based at Kourou, however it is unlikely that the satellite can be repositioned and they may be of limited use to the Galileo system.

ESA said that both satellites are safely under control and in stable orbits. Both have their solar arrays fully deployed and generating power.

Both ESA and Arianespace representatives have been invited to Brussels to present the initial results of their inquiry in the first week of September.

"The European Commission will participate in an inquiry with ESA to understand the causes of the incident and to verify the extent to which the two satellites could be used for the Galileo program. I remain convinced of the strategic importance of Galileo and I am confident that the deployment of the constellation of satellites will continue as planned," said Commissioner Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, in a statement.

Prior to the latest launch four Galileo satellites had been successfully launched and used for a verification of the Galileo system with a first autonomous position fix based on Galileo-only signals performed in March 2013.

The Commission said it aims to have the full constellation of 30 satellites – including 6 in-orbit active spares – in operation before the end of the decade. However, services could begin once the first 18 satellites are up and operational. That is expected sometime mid-decade but may have been pushed back by last week's failure.

Related links and articles:

IHS mobile devices and networks services

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