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Galileo! Galileo. Galileo! Galileo frigged-LEO: Easy come, easy go. Little high, little low

You think you can love me and leave me to die? Never – ESA

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The European Space Agency (ESA) says it is working “relentlessly” after an “injection anomaly” pushed its two new Galileo sat-nav satellites into the wrong low Earth orbit (LEO).

The ESA today said “the satellites are safely under control” and pointing in the right direction at the Sun, at least. The agency is also prepared to “confirm the good health and the nominal behaviour" of both solar-powered satellites.

The birds are part of a $7.5bn constellation of 24 sats plus six spares, all due in place by 2017. The pair were supposed to be in a circular orbit, inclined at 55 degrees with a semi major axis of 29,900km – but they ended up in an elliptical orbit, with a semi-major axis of 26,200km inclined at 49.8 degrees. Five degrees is a big deal in space.

The Euro scientists are now “investigating possibilities to exploit the satellites to their best despite the non-nominal injection orbit and within the limited propulsion capabilities of the satellites.”

On other words: all is not lost, as the ESA may be able to get the birds working in some way or another. And as the tale of 1997's PAS-22 shows, there are ways to save a stricken sad-nav.

In PAS-22's case, a satellite that ended in the wrong orbit was sent on two Moon flybys to direct it into a new and previously-unplanned Earth orbit. The sat burned most of its fuel doing so, but ended up in a useful place where it was commercially viable, a decent result given it was considered a write-off after its failure to launch. ®

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