The Satellite Morgue


Landsat 6 - NOAA, October 3, 1995. A panel of experts reviewing the failure of Landsat 6 has concluded that the satellite did not achieve orbit because of a ruptured hydrazine manifold, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today.

Landsat 6, an earth-resources satellite, was launched aboard a Titan II space launch vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Oct. 5, 1993. Initial indications were that the spacecraft separated from the booster at the appropriate time and location, but did not achieve orbit. The NOAA review board confirms this and attributes the failure to a ruptured hydrazine manifold. The ruptured manifold rendered the satellite's reaction engine assemblies useless because fuel could not reach the engines. As a consequence, there was a failure to maintain attitude control during the apogee kick motor (AKM) burn. This failure caused the spacecraft to tumble during the AKM burn and not accumulate sufficient energy to attain orbit.

NOAA's review board was chaired by Thomas E. McGunigal, director of NOAA's Systems Acquisition Office. The board worked closely with a similar board convened by Martin Marietta Corporation, builder of the satellite. Both boards reached the same conclusion and recommended that a task force study the best ways to provide hydrazine feed systems that are safe and failure- free.

EOSAT, based in Lanham, Md., was responsible for development of the Landsat 6 spacecraft and ground system under a Commerce Department contract. Martin Marietta Astro Space designed and built the satellite. The mission sensor, the Enhanced Thematic Mapper, was designed and built by Santa Barbara Research Center, a unit of GM Hughes Electronics. (Source:

SPOT-3 - November, 1966 - CNES recently confirmed that the Spot 3 spacecraft suffered an unrecoverable malfunction. During an operational life lasting three years, Spot 3 acquired over one million images.

Spot 2 remains operational in the real-time acquisition mode and will continue to transmit image data to 20 direct receiving stations worldwide. Spot 1 will be reactivated in January 1997, doubling the image acquisition capacity. By using successive passes by Spot 1 and 2 over the same area on the same day, it will also be possible to acquire stereopairs.

Spot 4 will be launched during the first quarter of 1998. Once it is operational, the Spot system will be back to its full capacity. Better still, Spot 4 offers significantly improved capabilities for monitoring vegetation.

Since the malfunction on 14 November, Spot Image has taken steps to limit any inconvenience to users due to the loss of the onboard recording capability. In particular, the company is making maximum use of its ten years of operational experience and the inherent flexibility of the Spot system.

Receiving station operators also responded quickly. They are examining, with Spot Image, how to improve data acquisition efficiency over their respective coverage areas in the real-time acquisition mode then relay the data to the company's head office in Toulouse. Imagery received in this way will be made available to users worldwide as soon as possible.

Spot Image, subsidiaries Spot Image Corporation, Spot Imaging Services and Spot Asia, and all the actors of the Spot system (CNES, industrial companies and receiving station operators) are putting all their know-how and capacity of innovation to meet the needs of the earth observation data market. (Source:

ADEOS - The Advanced Earth Observing Satellite (ADEOS), called "Midori," was launched by the H-II Launch Vehicle No.4 on August 17, 1996, and became operational on November 26 of that year after the intial satellite checkout. ADEOS acquired valuable Earth oberservation data for about seven months until it ceased operation on June 30, 1997.We wish to apologize for the loss of ADEOS and inconveniences caused to the users.

NASDA (The National Space Development Agency of Japan) has been investigating and analyzing the causes of the loss. When ADEOS was passing over Japan on June 30 at 9:46 a.m. (local time), the NASDA Earth Observation Center in Saitama Prefecture could not receive the ADEOS observation data. Therefore, tracking and control stations, both in Japan and abroad, transmitted a sequence of emergency commands to ADEOS in order to confirm its operational conditions, lighten its electrical load, and switch on the onboard instruments of its communication system. With a quick support of CNES, the above emergency commands were also transmitted to ADEOS from the Hartebeesthoek Station in South Africa at 4:46 p.m. Attempts to send the commands were also made by the Kiruna Station in Sweden at 6:01 p.m. and again, by the Hartebeesthoek Station at 6:26 p.m.However, no telemetry data was received after 4:21 p.m. on that day and eventually all these attempts failed to restore the transmission from ADEOS. Thus, at 7:05 p.m. on the same day, NASDA concluded that ADEOS had ceased functioning. (Source:

Lewis - Lewis was designated to be the world's first publicly accessible spaceborne hyperspectral sensor. The Lewis spacecraft was launched on August 22, 1997, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, aboard a Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle (LMLV-1). The spacecraft developed a slow spin on August 26, causing Lewis' solar arrays to lose their alignment with the sun and rendering the array unable to generate sufficient power. The spacecraft's batteries became almost fully discharged, preventing access to Lewis' transmitter and computer for correction of the flight anomaly. Increasing atmospheric drag caused Lewis' orbit to begin deteriorating. The spacecraft re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and presumably burned up on September 28, 1997.

EarlyBird 1 - LONGMONT, Colorado, April 7, 1998. EarthWatch Incorporated today announced that it has filed an insurance claim on the loss of the EarlyBird 1 remote sensing satellite and received $29 million from its insurance providers on the loss. The filing of the claim, and the receipt of $29 million, follows an interruption in communications with the 3-meter resolution commercial imaging satellite, which was launched December 24, 1997 into a near-perfect circular orbit from Svobodny, Russia. EarthWatch engineers have been attempting to reestablish contact with EarlyBird 1 since December 28, when communications were lost as the result of an anomalous satellite undervoltage condition.

EarthWatch President and Chief Executive Officer, Donovan B. Hicks, stated, "The loss of EarlyBird 1 is a great disappointment not just to EarthWatch, but to customers worldwide who are eager to begin receiving high-resolution commercial imagery. Following the news of EarlyBird's launch, the market showed tremendous enthusiasm for our imagery products and our distribution system, and with the continuing support of our strategic partners we can still capitalize on that enthusiasm. Now our efforts will be focused on the next step in finishing the construction of QuickBird, our next-generation submeter resolution satellite." (Source:


April 28, 1999

Rocket's nose cone fails to separate, Ikonos falls toward South Pacific

By Justin Ray

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - An Earth-imaging satellite never arrived in orbit Tuesday and probably burned up while falling through the atmosphere, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Engineers say the 1,400-pound payload fairing enclosing the Ikonos 1 spacecraft atop the Lockheed Martin Athena 2 rocket failed to separate as planned at 4 minutes, 27 seconds into flight.

The rocket was launched at 2:22 p.m. EDT Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

With the protective shroud still attached, the rocket's upper stage and satellite did not have enough speed to reach a stable orbit around Earth. The vehicle then reentered the atmosphere over the South Pacific Ocean.

The Lockheed Martin-built aluminum-lithium fairing protects the rocket's cargo during the flight through the atmosphere. It is supposed to jettison in two pieces once the rocket reaches the thinner upper levels of the atmosphere.

Officials, however, don't yet know why the fairing failed to separate, which should have occurred between the firings of the rocket's second and third stages.

"The analysis has just begun and there is a lot of data to impound," Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Joan Underwood said. "We will be zeroing in on some possible causes."

The last data received indicated the rocket's first three solid-fuel stages had fired, and the liquid-fuel fourth stage had begun the first of two firings to deliver the Ikonos 1 satellite into a near-circular orbit more than 400 miles above Earth.

Following its first burn, the upper stage and attached spacecraft were to have coasted in an elliptical orbit over Antarctica before heading northward over the eastern coast of Africa. The second burn of the upper stage, needed to circularize the orbit, and spacecraft separation were expected over Africa.

Tracking sites in Antarctica and Africa never received telemetry from the rocket, and a satellite ground station in Alaska failed to find Ikonos 1 about 30 minutes after the scheduled deployment from the upper stage, signaling to controllers that something had gone wrong.

Ikonos 1, owned by Space Imaging of Denver, Colo., was to have been the first private imaging satellite capable of capturing objects as small as 3 feet in diameter.

The satellite's imagery would have been used for urban planning, development of new roads, environmental study, monitoring of crops and even by news organizations.

Space Imaging hopes to launch the replacement Ikonos 2 satellite aboard another Athena 2 rocket by the end of the year.

"We see this as a minor setback. We should be able to recover from its fairly quickly given that we have a second satellite almost completely built and ready to go. We intend to try to launch that this year," said Space Imaging's CEO John Copple.

"I believe, ultimately, the market will still be a large one for this kind of product. It has waited this long, a few months shouldn't make a lot of difference."

Lockheed Martin's Athena rocket, designed as a small payload launcher for its family of larger Atlas and Titan vehicles, has flown five times with two failures.

The demonstration flight in 1995 failed shortly after launch when the rocket went out of control and was destroyed by safety officials. Three successful launches then followed in August 1997, January 1998 and this past January.

Two more Athena launches remain scheduled: Ikonos 2 later this year aboard an Athena 2 from Vandenberg and an Athena 1 carrying NASA's Vegetation Canopy Lidar satellite from Kodiak Island, Alaska, in August 2000.

Quickbird-1 - 2000.11.21

Quickbird 1 was launched from the Russian Plesetsk Cosmodome yesterday. Quickbird 1 was an IKONOS-like satellite with 1 m panchromatic an 4 m multispectral imaging modes in 4 bands. The satellite successfully entered its orbit but disappeared from the visibility zone of Russian radio equipment and does not respond to the signals sent by Russian ground stations, the Russian Defense Ministry main center for spacecraft testing and control has told Interfax.

The launch of EarthWatch's QuickBird 1 remote sensing satellite atop a Russian Kosmos 3M vehicle on November 20 has failed according to orbital parameters released by the U.S. Space Command. The upper stage apparently failed to circularize the orbit and the 950-kg Ball-built satellite ended on a 84 x 616 km orbit which caused it to reenter less than one hour after launch.

Editor's note: The cost of QuickBird 1 is estimated at about US$60 million but the launch was reportedly insured for US$230 million.

There is a planned Quickbird 2 mission which was supposed to follow Quickbird 1 within 12 months ... there is no indication of this status.


OrbView-4 - September 24, 2001

WASHINGTON - Orbital Imaging Corp.'s first high-resolution imaging satellite likely re-entered the atmosphere Sept. 21 following a bad launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., aboard a Taurus rocket. Also lost in the mishap was a NASA ozone mapping satellite.

The Taurus experienced problems shortly after lift-off and failed to gain the altitude or velocity necessary to place the satellites in their proper orbits, said Barron Beneski, a spokesman for Orbital Sciences Corp., builder of the rocket. The company, based in Dulles, Va., also built both spacecraft.

The loss of the OrbView-4 satellite deals a major blow to cash-strapped Orbital Imaging (Orbimage), which recently completed a financial restructuring after missing an interest payment on its debt earlier this year. Orbital Sciences is the parent company of Orbimage.

The loss of NASA's Quick Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (QuikTOMS) satellite, meanwhile, jeopardizes the agency's continuous monitoring of the Earth's ozone layer.

Beneski said the Taurus "experienced an in-flight anomaly of an undetermined nature" during the separation of its second stage, but managed to recover and achieve orbit.

"However it appears likely that it achieved orbit at a lower altitude than intended and possibly also at a lower velocity than intended," Beneski said.

Immediately after the separation of the first and second stages, something went wrong, causing the rocket to veer wildly. It appeared to fly sideways for approximately 10 seconds.

Both satellites were deployed from the rocket's upper stage but are presumed to have re-entered the atmosphere, Beneski said.

The launch was the sixth mission for the Taurus rocket since 1994. All five previous Taurus launches were successful.

Orbimage was banking on a successful launch of OrbView-4 to finally position the company to compete in a high-resolution imagery market dominated by two companies, Thornton, Colo.-based Space Imaging and ImageSat International, an Israeli concern based in Cypress.

Gil Rye, president of Orbimage, said during a Sept. 20 pre-launch conference call with reporters that OrbView-3, slated for launch next year, is the company's fall-back position in the event of losing OrbView-4.

Some analysts have questioned whether the company can afford the wait. Paul Nisbet, president of the Newport, R.I.-based investment banking firm JSA Research, said in a recent interview that Orbimage probably would not survive a launch failure or on-orbit failure of OrbView-4.

But Rye said in a recent interview that OrbView-4 was well enough insured to weather the year-long wait for OrbView-3.

OrbView-4 was designed to take black-and-white pictures with 1-meter resolution, which is sharp enough to distinguish ground objects of that size or larger. The satellite was also built to return full color imagery with 4-meter resolution. From its near-polar orbit, it would have been able to revisit ground locations approximately every three days, according to Mike Lembeck, OrbView-4 satellite program manager.

The loss of OrbView-4 also is bad news for the U.S. Air Force, which paid to have an experimental hyperspectral imaging capability added to the satellite. That experiment was dubbed Warfighter-1.

Orbimage had been looking forward to capitalizing on the international marketing rights to the satellite's hyperspectral data products. OrbView-3 does not have a hyperspectral imaging capability.

For NASA, the loss of the QuikTOMS satellite raises the likelihood that the U.S. space agency will be unable to avoid a gap in its 23-year continuous observation of the Earth's ozone layer. The U.S. government has flown ozone mapping instruments on a continuous basis since launching the Nimbus weather satellite in 1978.

The Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer, launched in 1998, is more than one year past its two-year design life.

Rick McPeters, the QuickTOMS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md, said the 160-kilogram satellite was meant to keep the data flowing between the demise of Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer Earth Probe and the launch of NASA's Aura environmental satellite in mid-2003. That spacecraft will have an advanced ozone-mapping instrument built by the Dutch, McPeters said. After Aura, ozone mapping will be carried out by a new series of U.S. weather satellites that will serve both military and civilian users, McPeters said.

The launch failure has also hurt Houston-based Celestis Foundation, a company that puts cremated human remains in orbit.

The Celestis payload, fixed to the rocket's final stage, did not achieve its proper orbit and re-entered. "We splashed into the ocean with everyone else," said Celestis Foundation President Charles Chafer. "We don't actually receive any funds until we provide a successful service," he said.

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Copyright Joseph M. Piwowar
Last Update: 2011.09.02