Since then Swarm has been repeatedly delayed, owing primarily to technical issues associated with the Rockot, which added 16 months to the mission schedule and cost ESA €26 million in storage and other additional fees. As a result, the total cost of Swarm today is €236 million ($316 million) including development, construction, launch, ground infrastructure and operations, says Volker Liebig, director of ESA’s Earth-observation program.
The first Swarm launch delay occurred following a February 2011 mishap that left a Rockot’s satellite payload in a lower-than-intended orbit, says Eurockot CEO York Viertel. After the launch, Russia conducted a lengthy failure analysis that grounded the fleet and pushed Swarm from an early 2012 launch into spring of 2013.
“They did ballistic analysis and identified the critical areas and implemented some corrective actions in the attitude determination system,” Viertel said, adding that Moscow’s investigation was complicated by a lack of telemetry from the balky upper stage.
Then in January, a Rockot launch of three Russian military communications satellites resulted in a similar upper-stage anomaly. Moscow called the mission a success, but in the weeks following, industry sources say the anomaly resulted in the loss at least one of the satellites.
“The technical issue was probably the same, but this time we had telemetry,” Viertel said of Russia’s subsequent investigation. “This improved our understanding of the issue in the attitude control system.”
The latest launch delay, which pushed Swarm’s liftoff from Nov. 14 to Nov. 22, came when Khrunichev opted to replace a gyro in the launcher’s Briz upper stage, according to ESA.
On the bright side, the months of delay gave ESA and Astrium additional time to refine the Swarm mission, and in some cases improve it. A silicon-carbide material used to develop Swarm’s scalar magnetometers was found to be contaminated with feromagnetic particles left over from the instrument’s manufacturing process. The launch delay allowed time for the company to replace them, says Eckard Settelmeyer, director of Earth observation, navigation and space at Astrium Satellites.“We cleaned the process and adapted the manufacturing to rebuild and improve these instruments.”