Atomic clocks on 9 of 72 European GPS satellites have failed


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The atomic clocks on 9 of the 72 European Galileo GPS satellites, designed to compete with the American, Russian, and Chinese GPS satellites, have failed.

No satellite has been declared “out” as a result of the glitch. “However, we are not blind… If this failure has some systematic reason we have to be careful” not to place more flawed clocks in space, [ESA director general Jan Woerner] said.

Each Galileo satellite has four ultra-accurate atomic timekeepers — two that use rubidium and two hydrogen maser. Three rubidium and six hydrogen maser clocks are not working, with one satellite sporting two failed timekeepers. Each orbiter needs just one working clock for the satnav to work — the rest are spares.

The question now, Woerner said, is “should we postpone the next launch until we find the root cause?”

That they are even considering further launches with so many failures of the same units seems absurd. They have a systemic problem, and should fix it before risking further launches.

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8 comments

  • LocalFluff

    A typo: there are 18 Galileo satellites with 72 clocks. 14 of the satellites are operating now, while 4 are launched but still testing. The goal is 30 satellites in total. AFAIK the system can be used by the public since just a month ago.

    India has its own “GPS” system consisting of 7 satellites in GEO and GSO, so it only has regional coverage around India. Same for the Japanese system with, I think, only 4 satellites in GSO. At least the Japanese system can only give very rough location in itself, but it complements other GPS with better clocks et cetera.

    Geosynchronous orbit differs from GEO in that the satellites are not in equatorial but in inclined orbits, so the satellites are from the ground seen moving straight up and down in the sky. I suppose GEO is high enough as seen for India’s mainland, and complemented with a few GSO satellites to get a spread between them for better triangulation precision.

  • PeterF

    During the corona program, they were having problems with static charge on the film rollers. It was causing a problem called “corona” and spoiling the images. They solved the problem with a workaround, they would place the film canisters in a vacuum chamber. the canisters that spoiled the film were then discarded and the ones that didn’t were sent aloft. Problem solved. (We have pictures of missiles in Cuba, get them out!) (The U2 overflights were unnecessary, Gary Powers was shot down needlessly)

    A good clockmaker sets up a new clock and lets it run for a month to calibrate it.

  • Cotour

    Check this:

    https://youtu.be/f1BgzIZRfT8

    This guy could fix them first hand and in person.

  • wayne

    Cotour-
    Good one! That is, an amazing view!

    ..slightly different problems at ground-level…

    “Acorn-filled, microwave relay antenna clean-out”
    https://youtu.be/cZkAP-CQlhA

  • PeterF

    Contour,
    Great drone video! Being able to fly makes it look easy. They’re supposed to have rest platforms every 100 feet. Thats 15 rest stops to climb this tower.
    — OH CRAP! I dropped the bulb when I was taking a selfie!

    Wayne,
    Squirrels can be cute but they’re still just rats with a fluffy tail, (and parasites, and diseases)
    This video reminded me that when I bought my car, the previous owner had left the gas cap off for about ten years. The squirrels filled the tank with pecans. I had clean fuel reaching the carburetor after I put the engine back together, but as soon as the car started moving the gas started sloshing. Only made it about half way home.

  • Edward

    From the article: “The question now, Woerner said, is ‘should we postpone the next launch until we find the root cause?’

    To ask such a question shows that this is a government operation. If it is a systemic problem, then they are likely to lose their current 18 satellites, and if it isn’t then they still need to figure out what the problem is before they fly more satellites.

    From the article: “We ought to take risks in order to learn, in order to be competitive in the future.

    This is true, but it seems that one risk is not paying off, in this case. They need to do risk mitigation, by fixing their problem, not just choosing to live with it as they lose clock after clock. This is how they are supposed to learn in order to be competitive. To skip the learning step is to defeat the stated purpose of taking the risks in the first place.

    LocalFluff wrote: “Geosynchronous orbit differs from GEO in that the satellites are not in equatorial but in inclined orbits, so the satellites are from the ground seen moving straight up and down in the sky.

    Geostationary orbits (GEO) are actually a subset of geosynchronous orbits (GSO). A reasonable description of a GSO orbit is that it traces out the same ground track on the Earth, where the ground track of a GEO satellite is a point on the equator.

    Rather than a straight up and down motion (my first instinct, when this was on a homework question in my orbital mechanics class), the satellite in an inclined GEO will usually trace out a figure 8, where the size of each loop depends upon the orbit’s inclination and elliptical eccentricity. An exercise for the student: ponder a polar elliptical geosynchronous orbit.

    PeterF wrote: “Gary Powers was shot down needlessly
    In fact, Powers’ flight was expressly against Eisenhower’s orders, because he didn’t want the political fallout from a shoot down.

    Among the problems with the Corona program was that the satellites did not completely cover the Soviet Union at all times. The purpose was to get a general sense of Soviet assets, not specific daily intel on specific locations. This is one of the reasons that the SR-71 program lasted for so long despite the improved satellite coverage, over the years.

    Corona breakdown was a problem that I had to consider in my space instrument designs.

  • Insomnius

    …squirrels…
    ***no bloodshed or death***
    trust me

  • Mike Borgelt

    So did they use the Euroweenie invented lead free solder? if that was the root cause. It is garbage and it would be poetic justice. Screw the anti freedom EU.

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