This summer will see significant progress in the world’s first civilian-owned and -operated satellite navigation system as Europe prepares to dispatch the first two full-capability Galileo satellites for lift-off.
Payload preparation for Arianespace’s Soyuz Flight VS09 started in earnest in early May with the arrival in French Guiana of the first two Galileo full operational capability (FOC) satellites.
After several months of testing in the Netherlands, the twin satellites were placed inside specially designed containers, maintaining temperature, humidity and air cleanliness within rigid limits in readiness for integration with the Soyuz launch vehicle in the middle of this month.
Scheduled for a dual-passenger launch on August 21, these satellites will join their four Galileo in-orbit validation (IOV) counterparts, which were deployed in pairs in October 2011 and a year later in 2012.
On Mar. 12, 2013, Galileo’s space and ground infrastructure came together for the very first time to perform the historic first determination of a ground location at ESA’s navigation laboratory at its ESTEC technical center, located in the Netherlands.
Didier Faivre, the European Space Agency director of Galileo, told AIN that the four IOV satellites are critical in helping the ESA demonstrate that the system could deliver precise positioning and timing capabilities.
“Europe has proven with the in-orbit validation campaign that, in terms of performance, we are at a par with the best international systems of navigation in the world,” said Faivre. “It gives us give us great confidence that the system will work when the constellation is completed.”
The Galileo program is Europe’s initiative for satellite navigation, providing a highly accurate global positioning system under civilian control–which will consist of 30 satellites, along with two control centers in Europe supported by a network of sensor and uplink stations around the world.
The network’s complete operational and ground infrastructure will now be deployed during Galileo’s full operational capability phase, which is managed and funded by the European Commission, with the European Space Agency delegated to design and procure on behalf of Brussels.
Faivre told AIN that four FOC satellites will be launched by the end of this year, and that, depending on production rates, another eight will be added to the constellation next year. “We will still have 22 to launch, so that means we anticipate the constellation will be completed in three to four years’ time,” said Faivre.
The imminent August 21 launch of the first two full-capability satellites will be followed by some weeks of testing and positioning before the satellite can be declared operational. “The objective over the next two years is to produce two satellites every three months as well as to launch two satellites every three months,” said Faivre. “That means we have to achieve a production rate at Bremen of one satellite every six weeks, to make it routine.”
To achieve this, three industrial integration teams were deployed recently in Bremen where the Galileo satellites are manufactured, the Netherlands (where testing takes place) and Kourou in French Guiana, where satellites are prepared for launch.
That activity will be crucial because despite highly promising validation results from the first four satellites, the true availability of services will be known only once the number of satellites within the constellation approaches 18.