On our sister site Travel Stack Exchange, someone asked about carrying a cubesat on a plane in hand luggage and is worried about damage or loss (or not being allowed on the plane). Several answers are telling them to drive, and that the risk of the launch is far greater than the risk of getting their satellite to the launch site in the first place.

Are there any satellites that have been lost or damaged during ground/sea transport to the launch site? A truck in a highway pileup, a ship sinking in the middle of the Atlantic, a train derailing (oops, forgot about the change of gauge getting to Baikonur), or simply dropped taking it out of whatever it's being transported in? I'm interested in anything from cubesats to the heaviest satellites ever built. For damage, I'm mostly interested in damage that is so significant that components had to be replaced, launch opportunities were missed, and/or the there was a (possibly mitigated) substantial loss of functionality. For the purpose of this question, I'm not interested in damage that occur during assembly, even if those damages are the consequence of an attempt to move the satellite a little bit.


The high-gain antenna deployment failure that caused Galileo to only be able to return data at a tiny fraction of the design rate was caused by vibration resulting from its being shipped cross-country by truck.

In December 1985, the antenna, again in its own shipping container, was sent by truck to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to await launch. After Challenger, Galileo and its antenna had to be shipped back to JPL in late 1986. Finally, they were reshipped to KSC for integration and launch in 1989. The loss of lubricant is believed to have occurred due to vibration the antenna experienced during those cross-country truck trips.

Source: https://www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/factsheet/Galileo_communication_factsheet.html

How the antenna was supposed to look:

enter image description here

Picture credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

How analysis shows it actually looked:

enter image description here

Picture sources: http://staff.on.br/jlkm/astron2e/AT_MEDIA/CH06/CH06UP01.HTM

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    $\begingroup$ For context: JPL is in Pasadena, California (I applied for a job there once). $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 13 '20 at 12:04

In late 2010, a Soyuz spacecraft was damaged in transit

enter image description here

Earlier report on the incident:

Engineers spotted damage to the Soyuz TMA-20's transport container after it was shipped by rail to the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the president of the Energiya spaceship factory, Vitaly Lopota, told the Interfax news agency.

McCollister's, a company which, among other things, specializes in transporting this kind of high value cargo, says that they improved their trucks after they were informed at an aerospace trade show in the 1990s of an incident involving a classified military cargo of some kind which was damaged during trucking when the trailer detached. The article does not actually say it was a satellite.


Are there any satellites that have been lost or damaged getting to the launch site?

Here's one:

image of the NOAA-N-prime after falling over due to errors

This incident was the result of trying to move NOAA-N-prime (which would later become NOAA-19) a tiny bit for inspection purposes. See Was the NOAA-N Prime satellite really dropped on the floor? for details.

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    $\begingroup$ I know about NOAA-19 (the post-launch name) and I've actually worked with the data, noticing it often being worse than NOAA-18 and commenting on this incident — but that's a mishap in the lab (even if the mishap happened as it was being moved a little bit). It wasn't on its way to the launch site so it's not really what I'm looking for :) $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 13 '20 at 10:19

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