On 22 August, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched the fifth and sixth satellites of Europe’s Galileo GNSS project. Unlike most Soyuz launches, the rocket did not lift off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, but from Kourou, Europe’s space centre in French Guiana.
While the launch went off without incident, the two satellites have been injected into incorrect orbits. The upper stage of the Soyuz rocket, the Fregat-MT, injected them into elliptical orbits instead of circular ones, making the satellites unusable for use in GNSS.
According to IEEE Spectrum the blame initially fell on the Fregat-MT’s out-dated navigation system, or possible engine malfunction. Another possible cause was that the Kourou ground crews were dealing with an unfamiliar launcher, however, it has since been confirmed that the crew that readied the Soyuz for launch was a Russian team.
Russian newspaper Izvestia reported on Thursday that, according to Russian space agency, Roscosmos, it was likely that a software error caused the two Galileo satellites to be placed in the wrong spots. This would be the second software error caused by Russian technicians this year, with the earlier one causing the Russian navigation system GLONASS to go down for 11 hours. The Izvestia article added that software development is a weak spot for Roscosmos because of chronic underfunding.
Read more at IEEE Spectrum.