Galileo launch: Four EU satellites to be blast into orbit as bloc | Science | News

Launching from the South American island of French Guiana, the European Space Agency will oversee the Ariane 5 rocket taking the quartet of satellites into orbit.

At around 12.05pm, UK time, the next components in the EU’s multibillion-euro Galileo programme will begin the launch sequence and head east over the Atlantic Ocean on its eight-hour journey.

The four satellites have been named after children who won a drawing competition hosted by the European Commission – Tara, Samuel, Anna and Ellen.

If successful, today’s launch will mean the European Commission and the European Space Agency have managed to put 26 satellites into orbit since 2011, keeping the Galileo network on track for full operability in 2020.

The launch is the last of the second batch of navigational platforms orders from OHB of Germany, which builds the spacecraft, and British-based firm SSTL, provider the the navigation payload.

Paul Verhoef, director of navigation at the European Space Agency, told reporters: “Here on site, everything is ready.

“The launcher is ready. The site is ready.”

Mr Verhoef insisted the programme is running on course for the European Commission to declare it fully operational in 2020.

While Galileo’s initial services were lunched in December 2016, allowing users with Galileo-enables technology to use its navigation signals, without the full compliment of at least 24 satellites there are still gaps in coverage.

Officials believe the gaps will be be closed in the next few years as the Galileo satellites begin to provide better-than-required positioning information.

Rodrigo de Costa, Galileo services programme manager at the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA), said: “Not only is the Galileo performance promised to be very good, it is very good.”

Mr Verhoef said the system will be fully complete when “the constellation is complete, fully operational, with all the ground segment”.

He added: “This is often forgotten.

“The focus is always that we launch satellites, but I can tell you a lot of the deployment, in reality, is happening on the ground.

“All of that needs to be ready, included and working together as a system before you can declare any kind of operational capability.”

Once complete, the Galileo constellation will be made up of 30 satellites, 24 operational and six spares, spread among three orbital planes 14,429 miles above Earth.

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