Oops! Soyuz Places 2 Galileo Satellites in Wrong Orbits

Soyuz launches two Galileo satellites (Credit: ESA)
Soyuz launches two Galileo satellites (Credit: ESA)

After much celebratory rhetoric on Friday over the launch of two Galileo navigation satellites from Kourou, European officials realized the spacecraft were placed in the wrong orbits.

Arianespace, which managed the launch of the Russian Soyuz booster, made a terse announcement:

Complementary observations gathered after separation of the Galileo FOC M1 satellites on Soyuz Flight VS09 have highlighted a discrepancy between targeted and reached orbit.

Investigations are underway. More information will be provided after a first flight data analysis to be completed on August 23, 2014.

ESA’s announcement was somewhat less terse:

Following the announcement made by Arianespace on the anomalies of the orbit injection of the Galileo satellites, the teams of industries and agencies involved in the early operations of the satellites are investigating the potential implications on the mission.

Both satellites have been acquired and are safely controlled and operated from ESOC, ESA’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Further information on the status of the satellites will be made available after the preliminary analysis of the situation.

Speculation has focused on the Fregat upper stage of the Soyuz launch vehicle.

  • ‮‮‮

    2014-050A / 40128: Alt = 14071 km, PeA = 13718 km, ApA = 25928 km, incl = 49.68°
    2014-050B / 40129: Alt = 14056 km, PeA = 13699 km, ApA = 25913 km, incl = 49.69°
    That’s about 1km/s dV from the target orbit (circular at 55°). According to unofficial reports from TsSKB Progress guys telemetry is fine, there are speculations about onboard software failure during insertion.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Not good.

  • Steven Hunt

    Apparently Russian upper stages come standard with a plethora of failure mode options.

  • Kapitalist

    And a year ago a failed proton launch destroyed three Glonass satellites, the Russian version of GPS. I don’t understand the rational motive for investing in new global positioning systems. Japan and India invest in much cheaper regional positioning systems instead, by using non-stationary synchronous orbits which requires much fewer satellites. Politicians in EU and Russia don’t understand their reduced place in the world. And not even super-expensive global positioning systems will help them do that…

  • Michael J. Listner

    There have been comments that getting them to the right orbital altitude might not be an issue; but getting them to the proper inclination will be problematic. It’s incidents like this that makes me highly skeptical of any claims of Russian manned lunar, missions, asteroid/space debris mitigation, etc.

  • Michael J. Listner

    They do not want to be reliant on U.S. GPS or China’s eventual global capability with Beidou.

  • Kapitalist

    But they could do with a regional variant of GPS, like Japan and India. Navigation on the south pole or in the Pacific is not relevant to Europeans. The politicians want to do this only because the US politicians have done it. A waste of space, I could think of more useful ways to use all those rocket launches.

  • Kapitalist

    1 km/s seems to be alot in this context. About 1/10 of the orbital velocity, I would suppose.
    Still, the Soyuz is very reliable and a crewed mission would probably be able to land safely even after such an orbital insertion failure.

  • Solartear

    European nations have territory spread across the globe, and if they need to fight somewhere, they need GPS. Modern war uses precision location information. (smart bombs, UAVs, etc)

  • Kapitalist

    Well, France has. But I think that the tourists on Kerguelen could make do with the US GPS, or the Indian version which should be in range over there. If you wage war on the other side of the planet, you are seriously hurting yourself. At least Americans should have learned that by now.

    Put up a system with nuclear powered GPS satellites, so that their much stronger signals could be reliably received indoors. Something which does something which isn’t already being done. It doesn’t matter if those sats blow up or are misplaced or actually work. They don’t do any use that motivates their cost.

  • ‮‮‮

    Manned Soyuz missions don’t use Fregat-MT upper stages though. Fregat (which seems to be at fault here) is a hydrazine-fueled tug for higher orbits and is used only in unmanned missions.

    And yes, that difference in inclination is not correctable (I was wrong assuming the target inclination was 56°, it’s 55°). Perhaps something went wrong with the attitude control system, since the insertion burn and everything else is reported to be correct by both Progress and Lavochkin insiders at NK forums. Most likely the burn direction didn’t match the inclination for some reason.

  • ‮‮‮

    I don’t understand the rational motive for investing in new global
    positioning systems. Japan and India invest in much cheaper regional
    positioning systems instead, by using non-stationary synchronous orbits
    which requires much fewer satellites.

    AFAIK QZSS is a differential GPS augmentation system, it cannot function without GPS signal, and IRNSS isn’t supposed to be precise enough.

    Also, there are lots of ambitions. Not everything that is going on in Russia can be rationally explained. I cannot speak for EU though.

  • Michael J. Listner

    The EU doesn’t have the political stomach to orbit a nuclear-powered satellite. Too many memories of Cosmos 951 not to mention the international hub-bub that orbiting nuclear reactors entails.

  • Kapitalist

    I didn’t know that. A regional positioning system with 3+ satellites, out of maybe 6 in total, within line of sight at any time should have the potential to be as capable as a global system with 20+ satellites. The EU doesn’t have any use for it anyway, it’s just waste of space and money. In the unimaginable scenario that the US turns off the GPS for the Europeans, they will be in deep s**t and have no resources to do anything about it anyway. If the US wants to shut down positioning over Europe, they will not allow the EU to run their own positioning system.

  • ‮‮‮

    Except it’s the first problem with Fregat itself out of 45 missions. (there was another failed insertion, but it wasn’t related to Fregat)

  • Aerospike

    The cruise stage of Phobos-Grunt was derived from Fregat and that failed as well as far as we know. So this might not be the first issue with the Fregat stage.

  • Aerospike

    First: nuclear power? stop drinking the cool aid.
    GPS signals are beamed down to earth with about the power of a light bulb! Of course you need power for other satellite subsystems as well, but solar power provides more than enough margin to dramatically increase the power of the signal. No nuclear garbage in orbit needed.

    I would assume that there are a lot of other issues with increased signal strength. Wi-Fi and cellular networks have enough trouble with penetrating various structures in short range applications and even radio/tv broadcasts that transmit at much higher power levels (but omnidirectional of course) have problems in some scenarios. I don’t even want to imagine the power levels required to reliably penetrate multi storage buildings from a 20+ km orbit!

    Second: It is called “global” positioning for a reason and as long as countries/blocks of the world don’t trust each other, they will continue to create their own systems, especially when the one that is “freely” available is controlled by the military.

    Galileo isn’t so much about prestige, as it is simply about achieving independence in an area that becomes increasingly important to _any_ government on the planet.

  • Kapitalist

    The project has political motives, not any which are commercially or scientifically useful. It doesn’t do anything which isn’t already done.

  • Michael J. Listner

    To add insult to injury, the satellites were not covered by launch insurance.

  • Solartear

    “It doesn’t do anything which isn’t already done.”

    So you wish for Europe to throw away all its orbital launchers since USA and other nations have them?

  • ‮‮‮

    As far as I know the source of the issue was the new on-board computer (TsVM-22), and Fregat and its modifications are using an old one (Biser series).

  • Kapitalist

    I wish they did useful launches instead of worthless. And since SpaceX,made in the US, seems to be the most competitive launch service, it would be best for Europe to use them instead of their more expensive DIY rocket. Euopeans should use the best launch service in the world.

    If you look at the Ariane 5, or a so called Galileo navigation satellite, you’ll see that it is impossible to manufacture them in Europe. There is no point in having local satellite manufacturing when you don’t have local production of all its components. It doesn’t help your “independence” at all. Just see this Atlas V Russian rocket engine problem. And I cannot imagine a realistic scenario where the US shuts down its GPS system over Europe without having the Europeans on their side. In the first Gulf War the US did encrypt the GPS so that only poor resolution was freely available (to the Iraqi military and everyone else). If the EU had had its Galileo back then, they would surely have done the same thing. We already have a GPS with redundancy. Galileo doesn’t add anything to it. It is a bizarre super power dream.

  • Aerospike

    For someone who calls himself “Kapitalist”, you seem quite opposed to the idea of fee markets and competition…

    You may not know that there are a lot of applications that require high precision location information for all kind of organizations/tasks in the world; like science, environmental surveillance, search& rescue, agriculture, etc. GPS is not all about satnav! For some, the public GPS signal just doesn’t cut it (you can’t monitor landslides on a mountain with single digit meter precision, you need centimeter precision) and the military signal is not available (at least as far as I know).

    Galileo provides a free/public service just like the US GPS with similar precision, but it’s high precision service is not restricted to (or even controlled by) the military. It is available on the commercial market for anyone who has a demand and is willing to pay for it – almost everywhere on the world.

    This capability simply doesn’t exist today and there is a market for it.

    Of course you could go with the Russian military GLONASS signal (they use a static encryption that has been cracked years ago), but you really aren’t suggesting that anybody should rely on Russia at the moment, right?

  • Aerospike

    Thx, I didn’t know that.

  • Kapitalist

    If there is a market for it, then there is no reason for government to finance it with tax money. And the whole project isn’t turning out so well either is it?