Ariane brings Galileo satellites into their orbits for the first time
Antonianna, Lisa, Kimberley and Tijmen – those are the names of the four Galileo satellites launched on 17 November 2016, at precisely 14:06 CET, for the first time with a specially adapted version of the European heavyweight carrier Ariane 5 from the European spaceport in French Guiana. Until now, a Soyuz rocket had brought the more than 700-kilogram navigation satellites to their orbits at an altitude of 23,222 kilometres – two at a time. However, the more powerful Ariane 5 can transport four satellites at a time. This means that 18 satellites will now be in orbit and the European Commission can now provide the first Galileo services. This includes the open service with which citizens can, for example, use navigation devices to determine their position more precisely than ever before as well as some search and rescue services. The way is paved for future commercial services. When fully functional, the Galileo system will consists of 30 satellites orbiting Earth, 24 operational and six as possible backups.
“This launch is so important because it is a significant step in completing the constellation by launching 4 Galileo satellites at a time. This is the first quadruple LEOP and IOT for Galileo and it will be possible because of the high skill and competence of the industrial team leaded by Spaceopal and composed by CNES, ESOC, DLR GfR and Telespazio. This further four satellites will allow proceeding fast in providing Galileo services” states Giuseppe Lenzo, Managing Director of Spaceopal GmbH. Since November 2010 Spaceopal GmbH has been the main contractor for operational services for Galileo.
Although the entry of four satellites into their target orbits with Ariane is no more difficult than two with Soyuz, the Galileo ground team at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen must simultaneously accomplish double the workload. “As with all past Galileo launches, DLR GfR is responsible for the commissioning of the main components and the final, high precision positioning of the satellites. In this case, we are dealing with four at a time. This is new and means parallel operations for which our expert teams are optimally prepared in the control rooms due to their routine,” emphasizes Walter Päffgen, Managing Director of the DLR subsidiary DLR GfR mbH.
The four satellites have been acquired by CNES immediately after the separation from the Ariane V upper stage. In few days their control will be transferred to the Galileo Control Center in Oberpfaffenhofen. The In Orbit Test phase, which aims to verify the functionality and performance of the payload on board the satellites, will take some months and will be managed also by the Galileo Control Centre in Fucino by Telespazio, with the support of the Redu Station.
© Image: ESA