Galileo Satellites Gear Up Ahead of Launch

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On Thursday, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch the next two Galileo navigation satellites, kicking off the third batch in a constellation of 26 currently in orbit. It will be the 11th Galileo launch in 10 years.

Galileo Satellites Gear Up Ahead of Launch
Galileos 27-28 atop Soyuz launcher/ESA

Galileo satellites 27 and 28 have been attached to their dispenser, ESA announced Thursday, after which they were placed onto the rocket’s upper stage, which will haul the pair most of the way up to medium Earth-orbit. They are now housed inside the fairing that will protect them during the first part of their ascent.

Once the satellites reach orbit aboard a Soyuz launcher from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, the dispenser will deploy them into space.

Galileo Satellites Gear Up Ahead of Launch
Bastiaan Willemse

So far, everything has been going according to plan and we are heading towards the ending of a smooth launch campaign, which started in early October,” said Bastiaan Willemse, ESA Galileo Full Operational Capability Satellites Manager.

Manufactured by OHB Systems and its suppliers, Galileo is a satellite navigation system, or global positioning service (GPS), that serves more than two billion users around the world. The first operational satellites launched in 2011, though its initial services became available in December 2016.

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 Gear Up Ahead of Launch
GIOVE-A/ESA

Coincidentally, the first prototype Galileo satellite, known as GIOVE-A, was formally decommissioned Wednesday after 16 years in orbit. When it launched in 2005, GIOVE-A carried a prototype rubidium atomic clock, proving the technology’s functionality for the constellation that would follow.

Galileo Satellites Gear Up Ahead of Launch
Paul Verhoef

If not for GIOVE-A the 26 Galileo satellites in orbit today would not exist,” said Paul Verhoef, ESA’s Director of Navigation. “Its speedy development and launch opened the way for our working constellation to follow.

Satellites 27 and 28 arrived at Europe’s Spaceport from the ESA’s ESTEC Test Centre in early October. Since then, they have undergone a launch campaign that included conducting initial dispenser “fit checks,” filling them with the hydrazine fuel that will manoeuvre them during their 12 years of working life, finalizing their navigation system generation units and uploading their security keys.

Galileo Satellites Gear Up Ahead of Launch
Galileos atop dispenser/ESA

Now that they are attached to the dispenser, the satellites will be transported with the upper stage to the launch site, where they will be integrated with the other three stages of the rocket.

If the two additional launches scheduled for next year go through, the Galileo constellation will reach Full Operational Capability. The rest of the “Batch 3” satellites, which are all undergoing pre-flight testing, will follow soon after.

Batch 3 will complete the first generation of Galileo, after which the Second Generation satellites, which are already in development, should begin deployment by the end of 2024. They will possess enhanced navigation signals and capabilities.

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