A computer error on the EarthWatch Quick Bird 1 satellite may have caused the loss of the Ball Aerospace-built spacecraft after launch on a Russian Cosmos 3M booster from Plesetsk on 21 November, Russian officials claim.

Earlier it was suggested that the second stage of the Cosmos booster failed. It now seems the computer ordered the solar arrays on the satellite to deploy while still attached to the ascending rocket after the payload shrouds had been released.

The error may have resulted from a one hour hold in the countdown to make ready a Norwegian tracking station. The computer was not re-set with the new launch time and followed the pre-programmed sequence.

The loss has resulted in 48 employees or 24% of the workforce of EarthWatch being laid off. The company was preparing to enter the commercial market for high-resolution remote sensing images. QuickBird 2 will be launched in mid-2001.

• The Lockheed Martin-led Space Imaging company, which operates the Ikonos 1 remote-sensing satellite, has formed an alliance with Turkey's Cukurova Holding/ INTA to provide the Turkish armed forces with imagery.

Source: Flight International