“No launch comes with no risk,” said Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel following the launch of two satellites in the late afternoon (7.20pm local time) of January 25th. The launch lifted SES-14 and Al-Yah-3 (YahSat-3) into orbit, but not without some heart-stopping anxieties. “Up until now our customers do not have contact with their satellites, said Israel. “We now need some time to determine where [the satellites] are exactly. I want to make our deepest [apologies] to our customers.”
On Friday morning (January 26th), it emerged that SES is confirming its satellite was deployed incorrectly and that it is not in the intended orbit. SES says it will take about four weeks more than planned to reach its correct orbit. SES-14 is an all-electric satellite and had been expected to take between four and six months to reach orbit. The satellite was otherwise in good health and there were no other issues.
Israel spoke to VIP guests after the launch and explained the then worrying problem. In essence, Arianespace lost contact with the rocket’s upper stage which suggested that the two hugely expensive satellites had been lost.
“A few seconds after ignition of the upper stage, the second tracking station located in Natal, Brazil, did not acquire the launcher telemetry. This lack of telemetry lasted throughout the rest of powered flight,” said an Arianespace statement a few hours after launch.
But there was then more positive news. A Tweet from Arianespace further explained the problem, saying: “Lack of telemetry after ignition of the upper stage lasted the rest of powered flight. Both satellites confirmed separated, acquired, on orbit. SES-14 and Al Yah 3 communicating with their respective control centers. Both missions continuing.”
However, there are inevitably expectations that the anomaly will need investigation which may slow down further planned launches. There have not been, as this is written, confirmations from SES or Al-Yah as to the state of health of the two satellites. One worry is that the satellites may not be in their correct target orbits.