Four Galileo pathfinders now in orbit
17 October 2012
On 12 October, a Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana with two Galileo spacecraft. The third and fourth satellites of Europe’s global navigation satellite system joined two satellites that were launched almost exactly one year earlier. These two new satellites complete the ‘testing group’ for the Galileo programme.
The spectacular launch of the VS03 flight started at 20:15 CEST. All of the rocket stages performed as planned and the upper stage released the satellites into their orbit at an altitude of about 23,200 km, 3 hours 45 minutes after lift off.
The pair of Galileo satellites was carried side-by-side and then released in opposite directions at the correct orbital insertion point. After early checks, they will be handed over to the control centres in Germany and Italy for testing before they begin operations.
With four identical satellites now in orbit, ESA will be able to demonstrate the performance of the Galileo system before the deployment of the remaining satellites. Together, these four satellites provide the minimum number required to be able to pinpoint a location on Earth.
These pathfinder spacecraft prepare the way for the full deployment of the Galileo constellation. 18 more satellites are scheduled to be launched by late 2014, enabling navigation services across Europe to begin. In the end, Galileo will consist of 30 satellites circling in three different orbits.