European Commission Summons ESA, Arianespace for Explanation of Galileo Launch Failure

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PONTE VEDRA, Fla. — The European Commission, acknowledging that the Aug. 22 launch of two of its Galileo navigation satellites aboard a Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket was a “failure,” on Aug. 25 said it had summoned the European Space Agency and Arianespace to Brussels the first week of September to explain what happened.

The Brussels, Belgium-based commission, which is the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union and owns the Galileo positioning, navigation and timing system, said it had created its own internal task force to monitor the investigation into what went wrong with the launch, from Europe’s Guiana Space Center on the northeast coast of South America.

The first two fully operational Galileo satellites were placed into a useless orbit following an apparent failure of the Soyuz rocket’s Fregat upper stage, which after seemingly performing normally for the entire launch dropped the satellites into an orbit that was elliptical instead of circular, and with an off-target inclination relative to the equator.

Prospects are dim for salvaging the mission by using available fuel to correct for the bad orbit, government and industry officials said.

It will be left to the commission to finance replacements for the two satellites. The commission was already preparing to contract for the four satellites yet to be ordered for the 30-satellite constellation and now will need to add two more to the order.

In its Aug. 25 statement, the commission said, “Following the failure… to inject Galileo satellites 5 and 6 into the correct orbit,” it has “requested” launch service provider Arianespace and ESA “to provide full details of the incident, together with a schedule and an action plan to rectify the problem.”

“ESA and Arianespace have been invited to Brussels to present the initial results of their inquiry to European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Ferdinando Nelli Feroci in the first week of September,” the commission said.

In a statement, Feroci said: “The problem with the launch of he two Galileo satellites is very unfortunate. … 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.”

The commission said it hopes to have all 30 Galileo satellites in orbit “before the end of the decade.”