An artist's impression of a Galileo satellite in orbit

Faulty Russian rocket behind Galileo launch fiasco

Investigators believe a Russian production flaw was behind the botched August launch of two satellites central to the development of Europe's satellite navigation system Galileo.

Revealing the findings of an inquiry panel that studied why the satellites were put into the wrong orbit after launch from French Guiana earlier this year, Arianespace said Russian firm NPO Lavochkin would correct a production flaw identified by investigators and that launches could resume from December.

The two Galileo satellites, first of the 26 Full Operating Capability spacecraft to form the EU navigation system, were launched aboard a Russian-made Soyuz rocket from Europe’s cosmodrome in Kourou, French Guiana.

"The anomaly occurred during the flight of the launcher's fourth stage, Fregat, designed and produced by NPO Lavochkin. It occurred about 35 minutes after lift-off, at the beginning of the ballistic phase preceding the second ignition of this stage," said an Arianespace statement.

"The Inquiry Board also eliminated the hypothesis that the anomaly could have been caused by the abnormal behaviour of the Galileo satellites," said the statement.

The European Space Agency (Esa), who is managing the constellation on behalf of the EU, has stabilised the satellites and has been investigating whether the two spacecraft could be of any use as part of the system in their incorrect, elliptical, instead of circular orbits.

Esa said earlier it was impossible to correct the satellite’s orbit using on-board fuel as the difference in altitude at the side of the ellipse nearest to the Earth was too large.

The August hitch was the latest setback for Galileo, which has been beset by delays, financing problems and questions over whether Europe needs to come up with a rival to the dominant US Global Positioning System and Chinese and Russian systems.

The European Union has approved a 7 billion-euro budget for Galileo and another navigation project between now and 2020. It says Galileo will strengthen Europe's position in a satellite-navigation market expected to be worth 237 billion euros in 2020.

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