FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Europe has recovered one of two satellites that were put into the wrong orbit when launched in August and may still be useable for the Galileo satellite navigation system as originally planned.
The mishap in August was one in a series of setbacks to the multi-billion-euro Galileo project, which has been beset by delays, financing problems and questions about whether Europe really needs a rival to the U.S. Global Positioning System, widely known as GPS.
The two satellites, the fifth and sixth of a planned 30 for Galileo, were launched aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket on Aug. 22 and ended up in an elongated orbit traveling up to 25,900 km (16,094 miles) above earth and back down to 13,713 km rather than completing a circular one.
While they were still functioning, the misshapen orbit meant that they would not be able to perform their job properly as part of Galileo.
The European Space Agency (ESA) said on Wednesday that the fifth satellite has now performed 11 maneuvers over 17 days to gradually shift to a more circular orbit and will run through a series of tests over the coming days.
Similar recovery maneuvers are planned for the sixth satellite.
"The decision whether to use the two satellites for navigation and (space radar) purposes as part of the Galileo constellation will be taken by the European Commission based on the test results," ESA said.
The EU has approved a 7 billion-euro budget for Galileo and another navigation project between now and 2020. It says Galileo will strengthen Europe's position in a satellite-navigation market expected to be worth 237 billion euros in 2020.
Airbus Defence & Space led construction of the first four satellites, while Germany's OHB and Britain's SSTL are building the next 22.
(Reporting by Maria Sheahan Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)