Soyuz’s Galileo Launch Failure Spawns Three Investigations

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PONTE VEDRA, Fla.  — A government-industry board of inquiry into the Aug. 22 failure of a Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket to correctly orbit two European Galileo navigation satellites is scheduled to present its initial results Sept. 8 after a 12-day investigation.

The eight-member committee, established by the European Space Agency and launch service provider Arianespace, is one of three separate analyses — the others are by the European Commission and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos — into why the Soyuz rocket’s Fregat upper stage completed an apparently flawless mission by releasing the satellites so far off target.

As of Aug. 29, government and industry officials said, the two Galileo satellites had deployed their solar arrays and were in good health. But in such an elliptical orbit, with an inclination relative to the equator that is likewise off target, officials said it is likely that the satellites will not be able to be maneuvered into their correct positions with sufficient fuel to conduct operations.

One European government official said Aug. 29 that there is no real work going on to salvage the mission given the fuel needed to bring the satellites into a correct orbit. “We would need something like [1,000 kilograms] of fuel and we have something like 80 kilograms,” this official said. “The focus of the inquiry is on the cause of the failure. The satellites themselves are lost.”

The European Commission, which owns the Galileo positioning, timing and navigation system, said it had summoned ESA and Arianespace to the commission’s Brussels headquarters the first week of September to explain what happened. The commission said it had created its own internal task force in addition to having a seat on the ESA-Arianespace inquiry.

Roscosmos, which also created its own inquiry board, said in a statement that the Fregat appeared to have functioned normally in terms of its hardware — a conclusion supported by the Arianespace webcast of the launch, which tracked the Fregat’s path and altitude, and the two firings of its motors, before in-orbit separation.

The Aug. 22 launch proceeded so smoothly that European government and industry officials, one after the other, made speeches celebrating the mission’s success. It was only when U.S. Defense Department space surveillance data were published that the useless orbit was disclosed to the public. Officials immediately began speculating that an error in software programming was to blame, and that Fregat was correctly following badly calibrated orders.

Government officials said the effect on the overall Galileo program should be minimal. The Aug. 22 launch was of the first two fully operational Galileo satellites, built by a team led by OHB AG of Bremen, Germany, and SSTL of Britain. A second pair, scheduled for launch aboard the same Soyuz rocket in December, has completed the principal test campaigns.

OHB is under contract to build 22 Galileo satellites. Four in-orbit-validation spacecraft are already in operation, although two of them have performance issues that have not been solved despite months of investigation.

Galileo is intended as a 30-satellite constellation. The 22 OHB-built satellites plus the four spacecraft already in orbit mean the European Commission was already preparing to order four more satellites in the next year or so. That order likely will expand to at least six following the Aug. 22 failure.

The European Commission’s Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Directorate is managing Galileo. The directorate’s commissioner, Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, reiterated the commission’s backing for the program in an Aug. 25 statement.

“The problem with the launch of the 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,” Feroci said, adding that the commission hopes to have all 30 Galileo satellites in orbit “before the end of the decade.”

The eight-member ESA-Arianespace board of inquiry will coordinate its activities with Roscosmos. Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said the board, which first convened Aug. 28, will work in complete independence.

Former ESA Inspector-General Peter Dubock will head an eight-member board.

The other board of inquiry members are:

  • Guido Colasurdo, a flight-mechanics professor at the University of Rome Sapienza.
  • Michel Courtois, former technical director at ESA and a veteran of several failure and program-quality reviews for ESA.
  • Paul Flament, Galileo program unit head at the European Union’s directorate-general for enterprise and industry, which has charge of Galileo.
  • Giuliano Gatti, head of the space-component office for Galileo at ESA.
  • Wolfgang Kubbat, former manager of the Institute of Flight Dynamics and Automatic Control at the Technical University of Darmstadt, in Germany.
  • Isabelle Rongier, inspector-general and director of quality at the French space agency, CNES.
  • Toni Tolker Nielsen, ESA deputy inspector-general.

Roscosmos named Alexander Daniliuk, deputy director of Russia’s TsNIIMash organization, to be the interface between the Russian and European inquiries. The Fregat upper stage is built by Russia’s NPO Lavochkin.