Buyer’s remorse is something that often affects those individuals who make a big ticket purchase, whether it be a boat, house, car, or engagement ring. While the sticker shock may be there, at least a person can physically enjoy the items, but how do scientists who secure millions of dollars of funding feel when the drone they launch fails and flutters directly into the ocean or some rogue planet? When the satellites work, they provide a wealth of information but some taxpayers might still have a hard time justifying the budget for these most expensive drones ever launched into space.
Ariane 5 Rocket: $7 Million and lost $500 Million in Cargo
One rocket that turned out to be a bust back in 1996 was the Ariane 5 rocket developed by the European Space Agency which was intended to give Europe a significant advantage in developing the commercial space business. One particular Ariane 5 rocket was worked on for over 10 years to the cost of $7,000,000. On paper, the rocket was supposed to launch into space with a cargo of two satellites each weighing three tons that would be introduced into orbit. Unfortunately things don’t always work out as they’re drawn up and the Ariane 5 burst into flames a mere 40 seconds into takeoff. The explosion was caused by a software error that was trying to return a 64-bit number into a 16-bit slot. This particular software error had a remedy of terminating the flight instead of carrying on limply and the result was $500 million of cargo and equipment hurling into the swamps of French Guiana.
Artemis Satellite: Almost Lost $850 Million
Pizza companies can lose upwards of $25 when they deliver a sausage and anchovies pie to the wrong house but that pales in comparison to the $850 million that the European Space Agency almost lost when it delivered satellites to the wrong address in 2001. Whether it was due to a quickly diminishing fuel line or a miscalculation in programming, the satellites were dropped off 18,000 kilometers short of their goal. When you’ve got almost a billion dollars floating randomly in space you just can’t dock the delivery guy’s pay so the ESA quickly devised a recovery team to right this error. After 18 months of reprogramming the satellite from the ground, the mission was finally considered a success and the Artemis was pushed up the remaining distance into the correct orbit, although the total costs rose considerably as well.
Glory Satellite: Loss of $424 Million
Almost every kid has experienced the disappointment that comes with a Boomer Man Rocket being a dud and basically ruining his or her Independence Day. NASA felt a similar pain to the youngsters when their Glory Satellite mission failed in 2011 thanks to a faulty Taurus rocket. The Taurus was supposed to launch into orbit, have its nose cone separate and fall apart and thrust the Glory satellite so that the Earth’s climate and the energy of the sun could be studied from above. Instead, the nose cone malfunctioned and didn’t open and the extra weight meant that the only climate that is being studied by the Glory Satellite is likely the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The failure was one of the first captured in tow by social media in real time with NASA Tweets. The $424 million loss likely meant some job cuts at NASA, specifically the Tweeting Department.
Russian Communication Satellite: Plunged $265 Million in the Ocean
When a person misplaces their car keys or wallet, it’s often frustrating and can cost some money to be replaced. The Russian space agency scoffs at these measly misplaced items as they once lost over $800 million on a telecommunications satellite. The Express AM-4 was launched atop a Proton rocket in 2011 but failed to reach its destination orbit. The satellite was also supposed to have a 15-year lifespan but after numerous attempts to save the device or at least recycle it, spacecraft controllers eventually decided to plunge the $265 million satellite into the Pacific Ocean, to seemingly join a whole host of other satellites
South Korean Satellite: Total Launches Worth $450 Million
The Naro-1 is South Korea’s first successful carrier rocket and with inaugural anything, there is definitely some trial and error involved. Specifically the first two attempts to launch the Naro-1 ended in failure with both missing their intended orbit path. By the time the kinks were worked out for the third attempt the launches alone totaled $450 million dollars. The satellite will be used for research but more importantly established that South Korea was developing, with success, a viable space program.
Mars Orbiter: Worth $125 Million that got Lost
One would think that every detail would be mulled over with a fine tooth comb when it comes to space launches but a simple discretion over whether measurements were metric or English resulted in a lost $125 million orbiter back in 1999. The oversight was misdiagnosed for months and resulted in the Mars Climate Orbiter missing its target by over 60 miles. The Orbiter would’ve been great for examining Mars’ water supply but because of a slight yet gigantic oversight, the target was missed and the unit is now likely orbiting the sun.
Global Hawk Drones: $223 Million
Some expensive satellites or drones are individual units but the global hawk drones represent a very costly production line. In fact when the Air Force was facing budget restraints they recommended shutting down the Global Hawk line for five years which could save $2.5 billion. The $223 million drone was not operationally effective according to Air Force executives but lobbyists led by the drone manufacturer Northrop Grumman (which had revenue of $25 billion in 2012) were able to effectively keep the device in production.
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