Ariane 5 Anomaly: Satellites Healthy But Not Where They Should Be

Ariane 5 launches with SES-14 and Al Yah 3 satellites. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An Ariane 5 booster delivered two communications satellites into the wrong orbits on Thursday, but their owners say the spacecraft are healthy and will be able to reach their intended destinations using on-board propulsion.

SES says its SES-14 satellite will be reach its intended geosynchronous orbit four weeks later than planned.

“SES confirms that the spacecraft is in good health, all subsystems on board are nominal, and the satellite is expected to meet the designed life time,” the company said in a press release. “SES-14 will be positioned at 47.5 degrees West to serve Latin America, the Caribbean, North America and the North Atlantic region with C- and Ku-band wide beam coverage and Ku-band high throughput spot beam coverage.”

Yahsat issued a similar statement concerning its Al Yah 3 satellite. The company is working on a plan to get the spacecraft to its planned orbit.

“We are pleased to know that the satellite is healthy, and that the necessary steps are being taken to ensure the original mission is fulfilled,” said CEO Masood M. Sharif Mahmood. “I would like to thank our technology partner Orbital ATK and the Yahsat team in ensuring the Al Yah 3 objectives are met.“

Orbital data show the satellites were delivered close to their targeted geo-transfer orbits of 250 x 45,000 km. However, their inclinations are at 20.64 degrees rather than at the planned 3 degrees.

Controllers lost contact with the Ariane 5’s second stage into its engine burn. The telemetry loss continued throughout the rest of powered flight.

Arianespace is investigating the anomaly.

“Arianespace has set up an independent enquiry commission in conjunction with ESA,” the company said in a press release. “The upcoming launch campaigns currently underway at the Spaceport in French Guiana are proceeding as scheduled.”

 

  • Robert G. Oler

    Question I dont know …what are the launch destruct issues for Ariane V…ie it seemed to veer off course quite a few degrees and well they let it fly

  • WhoAmI

    At least they didn’t zume back into the atmosphere attached to their 2nd stage. ok.. bad joke, I admit. And not a swipe at SX either. 😉

  • Search

    17 deg is a colossal f up by Ariane. At least they were inserted 1000’s of km high which might help as they relocate. Will be interesting to hear what cause is. Had this been something other than two GEO birds with electric thrusters (like say JWST or other deep space mission) it probably would have been a total loss.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Lots of questions there. Also the telecast goes on with “predicted” events forever after the telemetry dropped (and obvious point that the inclination was way off to anyone looking at real data before it dropped). Bad to run your launch telecast where the host is vamping through critical steps and callouts that are basically bogus.

  • Cinttya

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  • JS Initials

    You believe what your government and MSM are telling you about Zuma?

  • JS Initials

    They should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque! LOL.

  • Jeff2Space

    My guess is that someone programmed the thing for the wrong orbit. Oops.

    Last year, the Russians had a similar problem with a Soyuz launched from their new launch site. The software was still programmed for the old launch site. Again, oops.

  • Jeff2Space

    I’m sure the telemetry dropped because the antenna(s) were pointed at the predicted trajectory, not the actual trajectory. Doh!

  • WhoAmI

    Yes. I’m nothing but an ignorant lemming. You got me.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Well whatever reason this was a fiasco

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Problem comes during station handoff, they would need a back channel between stations to provide deviation. Generally shouldn’t even be a use case as they should FTS before leaving the corridor.

  • Aegis Maelstrom

    Aye, for now it looks like bad data entry as the people at nasaspaceflight forum point out, the achieved orbit has a very, very similar energy to the planned one, it is just different – which suggests the hardware was fine (otherwise it would not achieve this velocity) but programming was off.

    Strange thing, to investigate.

    Fortunately it seems that the sats will be able to achieve their GEOs without massive additional costs; we will learn soon.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    The cost is how much service life is lost by the amount of propellants needed to boosted the comsats to their proper orbit.

    For the SES-14 comsat, that might just be about a couple of years. Advantage of all electric propulsion.

    However the Al Yah 3 comsat got a hydrazine orbital maneuver motor. That should not be able to get the comsat to the proper orbit alone. Which will eat up a lot the Xenon for the station keeping engines to archive proper orbit. So the service life of the Al Yah 3 comsat might only last about 9 years.

    IIRC both comsats got a design service life of about 15 years.

    Both customers will be filing claims with their insurer after the comsats reach their proper orbit for the shorten service life. So there is the possibility of higher insurance cost to fly up with the next few future Ariane 5 contracts.

  • Lee

    This launch was supposed to carry SES-12, if memory serves correctly. It was later switched to SES-14, and SES-12 moved to F9. I wonder if SES-12 was going to a 27 degree orbit, and they never got around to reprogramming the second stage correctly?