Soyuz puts two satellites in wrong orbit


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A Russian-made Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana for Arianespace has placed two European Galileo GPS satellites into the wrong orbit.

Russianspaceweb suggests that the problem was caused by the rocket’s Russian Fregat upper stage. (Scroll down about halfway to read their report on this launch.)

Multiple independent sources analyzing the situation suggested that the Fregat upper stage had fired its engine for the right duration, however the stage’s orientation in space during the second or both maneuvers had probably been wrong. According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a veteran space historian, the Fregat’s angular orientation error during engine firing could reach as much as 145 degrees.

This failure is a triple whammy. It hits both Arianespace and Russia since the Soyuz was part of a partnership between the two. It also hits Europe’s Galileo GPS satellite, which after many years of development was beginning to move towards full operation.

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2 comments

  • mpthompson

    Ouch. And no insurance. Oh well, the European taxpayers are good for it. Right?

  • Dick Eagleson

    It seems like quite a few of the mission failures related to Russian space launchers have been upper stage failures, The much larger Briz-M stage has had several problems and now the smaller Fregat is apparently following suit. This doesn’t suggest that Russia has yet gotten a handle on its space-related quality control problems.

    Given that the MIRV bus of an ICBM is basically quite similar to a satellite launcher’s upper stage in terms of function, these upper stage problems may also have implications for the reliability of Russia’s ICBM’s. I don’t know if the Russians do regular tests of missiles plucked at random from their silos like we do, but if so, at least part of their missile fleet may be of sufficiently recent manufacture for these post-Soviet quality control issues to be a factor.

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