Satellite Silent After Being Launched in Wrong Orbit

Associated Press

A $220-million Earth observation satellite failed to communicate with controllers after launch Tuesday and circled silently in an orbit that was slightly off course, officials said.

The Landsat 6 satellite was launched aboard a Titan IIG rocket from Vandenberg at 10:56 a.m. and was supposed to go into a polar orbit for a five-year mission at a cost of $513 million.

"It's in a different orbit than we expected," said Carla Adam, a spokeswoman for Earth Observation Satellite Co. in Lanham, Md., which is running the mission for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The satellite was spotted by the North American Air Defense Command, which confirmed that the satellite's solar panel--which supplies power--had deployed, she said.

"We're trying to communicate with it (but) it's not where we are sending our commands," Adam said.

By the end of the day and after the satellite had made three passes over ground stations, engineers had not yet heard a signal from it and were meeting to assess what could be done, said Patricia Viets, NOAA spokeswoman in Lompoc.

EOSAT initially reported that the satellite had gone into proper orbit. "We thought it had," Adam said.

The spokeswoman said the problem was "not out of the ordinary."

"We expect to get it into the nominal orbit by the end of the week, if not sooner," Adam said.

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