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Galileo Satellites Arrive at Europe’s Spaceport Ahead of Launch
Galileo Satellites Arrive at Europe’s Spaceport Ahead of Launch

On Friday, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that the latest pair of Galileo satellites have arrived at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana ahead of their launch together next month.

Galileo is currently the world’s most precise satellite navigation system, or global positioning service (GPS), serving more than two billion users around the world. Although the first operational satellites launched in 2011, its initial services became available in December 2016.

These two new satellites are the first of 12 comprising the third and last batch of Galileo First Generation satellites.

The fully deployed Galileo constellation will consist of 24 operational satellites and six in-orbit spares, positioned in three circular Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) planes at an altitude of 23,222 km above the Earth.

Galileo Satellites Arrive at Europe’s Spaceport Ahead of Launch
Galileo Constellation/ESA

The two recently arrived satellites were built by OHB SE in Germany, with their navigation and search-and-rescue payloads contributed by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd in the UK. Before being cleared for launch, they went through rigorous testing at ESA’s ESTEC Test Centre, the largest satellite test facility in Europe.

Galileo Satellites Arrive at Europe’s Spaceport Ahead of Launch
Loading Galileo satellite aboard Lorry/ESA

After leaving the ESTEC Test Centre in the Netherlands on Tuesday morning, the satellites touched down at Liège Airport in Belgium. From there they stopped at Oporto Airport in Portugal, then flew to Cayenne in French Guiana on Wednesday evening local time. They were subsequently unloaded from the aircraft and driven through the tropical dusk to the cleanroom surroundings of the spaceport, where they could be safely unpacked from their environmentally controlled containers.

In addition to its initial services, Galileo will provide a global Search and Rescue (SAR) function. The satellites are equipped with a transponder that will communicate the distress signals from user transmitters to regional rescue coordination centres, which will then initiate rescue operations. In a major upgrade to the current system, Galileo will also send a response signal back to the user, informing them that their situation has been detected and that help is on the way.

Galileo Satellites Arrive at Europe’s Spaceport Ahead of Launch
Galileos 27-28 atop Soyuz launcher/ESA

Next month’s liftoff will be the 11th Galileo launch in 10 years. Both satellites will ride aboard a Soyuz launcher, adding to the 26-satellite Galileo constellation already in orbit and delivering Initial Services around the globe.

ESA is planning two further launches for next year, to be followed by the rest of the Batch 3 satellites which are currently all undergoing pre-flight testing, completing the deployment of the First Generation satellites.

The Galileo Second Generation satellites, featuring enhanced navigation signals and capabilities, are already in development with their deployment expected to begin by 2024.

Galileo Satellites Arrive at Europe’s Spaceport Ahead of Launch
Galileo launch to orbit/ESA

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