Galileo satellites probe launched
European space officials are investigating whether the inaccurate deployment of two satellites will complicate their efforts to develop a new Galileo satellite navigation system that would rival America's GPS network.
The European Space Agency and launch company Arianespace say the satellites ended up in off-target orbits after being launched from Kourou, French Guiana, aboard a Soyuz rocket.
A statement did not explain the difference between the satellites' intended orbits and its current ones, nor whether their orbital paths could be corrected. Arianespace said they settled into an orbit lower than intended.
The European Union hopes to have its 30-satellite Galileo navigation network operating fully by 2020. The Prague-based programme oversaw the launch of its first two satellites in 2011, two more in 2012, and two more yesterday.
Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the French space agency CNES, said the investigation still needed to determine precisely how far off course the satellites were.
He said European Space Agency experts in Toulouse, France, and Darmstadt, Germany, were calculating whether small motors inside the satellites would be strong enough to push them into the correct orbit.
Mr Le Gall said that the investigation would take "several days to understand what has happened. And then we'll see about the possible consequences on the launch calendar," he said, referring to plans to launch more satellites in coming months.
He called the Galileo navigation network "a very complex programme, and even if we have some failures, that's unfortunately part of the life of operations".
If the two satellites cannot be pushed to the correct altitude above the earth, he said, subsequent satellites launched would have to take up the slack.
The programme has faced other delays and operational hiccups. European Space Agency officials said on Wednesday they had to reduce the strength of another Galileo satellite's signal because of unspecified problems.
The European agency says it hopes Galileo will provide greater precision for satellite navigation systems than the GPS system already used worldwide to pinpoint locations and plot routes.