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Two Galileo GPS satellites launched in wrong orbit

The satellites were launched Friday aboard a Soyuz ST rocket

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Two satellites that are intended to form part of the European Galileo satellite navigation system went astray from their intended orbit after launch from French Guiana on Friday, satellite launch company Arianespace said.

Galileo is being built by Europe as a civil alternative to the U.S. GPS (global positioning system) and the Russian GLONASS. The system is designed to be interoperable with GPS and GLONASS. Europe is targeting the technology at a number of applications including location-based services on mobile phones, aviation, and civil protection and surveillance.

Arianespace said Saturday the European Space Agency and the European Commission will set up an investigation panel on Monday to identify the cause of the defective orbit and what needs to be done to resume the Soyuz launches from the Guiana Space Center (CSG).

The launch firm, backed by European space companies and related agencies, did not say whether the orbit could be fixed, but said studies and data analysis continue to "determine the scope of the anomaly and its impact on the mission." The European Space Agency said further information on the status of the satellites will be made available after the preliminary analysis of the situation.

The lift-off and first part of the mission proceeded without issues, and the satellites were released according to a planned timetable, and signals were received from the satellites. "It was only a certain time after the separation of the satellites that the ongoing analysis of the data provided by the telemetry stations operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency CNES showed that the satellites were not in the expected orbit," Arianespace said. The orbit of the satellites is now elliptical rather than the intended circular orbit.

On Friday, the European Commission described the launch of two new Galileo satellites from Kourou, in French Guiana, as "another milestone in the history of the programme." Four satellites are already in orbit and the system's operation has been validated. With two additional satellites in orbit, Galileo is moving closer to the provision of early services in the course of next year, the Commission said.

A second launch is planned this year with more satellites to go into orbit in 2015. It is unclear whether the anomaly discovered in the two satellites over the weekend will affect the proposed launches.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com



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