Sunday, March 18, 2012

Frozen Pipe Glitched Galileo Launch

This illustration, released by the ESA shows the erroneous satellite orbit, and the intended orbit.

This illustration, released by the ESA, shows the erroneous satellite orbit in red, and the intended orbit in dashed green. The other two lines represent current Galileo satellite orbits

Preliminary reports from the Galileo inquiry seem to be trickling through, and a possible cause for the mislaunch of the two Galileo satellites has been determined. According to and the French daily Le Monde, investigators suspect that the source of the glitch is a frozen pipe which contained hydrazine fuel.

According to the article, the hydrazine pipes are located near another pipe that circulates ultra-cold liquid helium which may have led to their freeze. The hydrazine fuel is used by the Fregat upper stage to drive the satellites into their correct orbital slots. Experts have already confirmed that the upper stage was not completed properly during the launch, stranding the satellites in an unusable elliptical orbit.

Prior to this deviance, Galileo had intended to launch two additional satellites by the end of this year and begin the first phase of Galileo services in 2015. The services would include basic navigation and search-and-rescue location information. Additional launches were scheduled for the next several years, including six backups, with the constellation aimed for completion in 2020. The European Space Agency (ESA) website currently has a launch scheduled on Oct. 16, so presumably they are continuing forward.

After this setback, the Galileo team and the ESA stated that they were postponing launches until the cause of the launch malfunction was determined. I haven’t seen any news about whether or not the second launch will go as planned, and decisions still have to be made about what to do with the currently useless satellites.

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