On January 25th an Arianespace rocket launch went badly wrong and placed two satellites into incorrect orbits. What is now clear from reports in the French press is that while both satellites were reacquired and re-programmed in space and will eventually achieve their correct orbits, the consequences for Arianespace – and the two satellite’s owners – could have been catastrophic. Press reports say the problem was caused by a computer programming error on the rocket.
The satellites were owned by SES (SES-14) and Abu Dhabi’s Al Yah (YahSat-3). Both are badly affected by the mishap. SES-14 will take about an extra 4 weeks to reach orbit, while YahSat-3 will also take extra time to reach orbit.
The delays have major impacts on both satellite operators, in that the satellites will take much longer to start generating income. The YahSat-3 problem also impacts Eutelsat which has leased considerable capacity for its much needed ‘Konnect Africa’ broadband programme. Eutelsat will update the market on February 16th, during a results statement, on the overall impact of the delay.
But the consequences are also serious for Arianespace. Despite an unblemished record of launches that lasted for 82 missions and more than 15 years of successes Arianespace is now having to conduct an in-depth and independent inquiry into what happened. Member of the Investigation Board will include senior experts from the European Space Agency and officials from NASA.
The NASA participation is needed to calm anxieties over the launch of a hugely important – and massively expensive – scientific cargo (the James Webb Space Telescope) in the Spring of 2019.