Russian Rocket Launched Into Wrong Orbit

A Russian rocket launched on Friday, August 22, is about 8,900 miles (5,200 kilometers) away from its target orbit above the Earth. The Russian-built Soyuz STB-B rocket was aiming for a 14,600 miles (23,500 kilometers) orbit above the earth, but according to U.S. Airforce data, only made it to 8,500 miles (13,700 kilometers). Oops.

Speaking to the rocket launch the French launch services company, Arianespace, reported:

“Complementary observations gathered after separation of the Galileo FOC M1 satellites on Soyuz Flight VS09 have highlighted a discrepancy between targeted and reached orbit…”

It appears that the Soyuz rocket was supposed to launch its boosters in three stages, with the final upper stage Russian Fregat-MT rocket igniting around 10 minutes after liftoff. The Fregat rocket was programmed to fire twice to enter its appropriate orbit. But it appears this rocket booster misfired.

While Russian ground crews manage the Soyuz rocket launch and countdown, the final responsibility for the rocket launch falls on Arianespace.

Russian-built Soyuz STB-B rocket.

Friday’s rocket launch carried two of 30 scheduled Galileo navigation system satellites, which form part of a $7.2 billion Galileo satellite navigation network. According to the ESA, the Galileo network is intended to be an independent, European alternative to the U.S. Airforce Global Positioning System and the Russian Glonass satellites.

While only 24 satellites (12 rocket launches) are needed for the Galileo network, at $53 million (40 million euros) a piece any mistake is costly — especially those involving an entire rocket system. Arianespace was contracted by the European Commission to fire five Soyuz rockets at a price tag of $105 million per flight. Last Wednesday, Arianespace signed another to launch three Ariane 5 rockets beginning next year.

There are 20 more Galileo satellites cued up in Europe to ship to the Guiana Space Center. According to Space Flight Now, the next Soyuz rocket with 2 satellites is slated to launch in December.

Didier Faivre, director of ESA’s navigation programs, stated that even with this rocket mishap, the Galileo network is on-schedule.

“The challenge today is more on operations, cadence, continuity and maintaining such a constellation, which is quite new for Europe[. W]e have 22 satellites on the production floor. Also, we have many launches. We are, in a way, self-insured due to our procurement process. We prefer to invest in hardware or launch services than to go into the insurance market. If something goes wrong, we use spares.”

So Galileo may rocket to success after all.