Two new Galileo satellites have been successfully placed in orbit, joining the existing six probes in the constellation that aim to provide a European alternative to GPS and Glonass networks. The operation went off without a hitch – something that can't be said for the troubled assent of the fifth and sixth Galileo satellites.
The two new satellites were launched into orbit on March 27 from Europe's spaceport in French Guinana. All stages of the Soyuz rocket assent vehicle were performed as planned, with the probes being released at their target altitude of 23,500 km (14,600 miles), some 3 hours and 48 minutes after liftoff.
After checks confirm that the satellites are fully operational, control will be handed over to the Galileo in-orbit testing facility in Redu, Belgium and the Galileo Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. Final testing is scheduled to conclude by mid-year.
While everything appears to have gone smoothly for the latest pair of satellites, the fifth and six probes – launched in August 2014 – had a decidedly rockier start to life. Due to a malfunction during launch, both satellites were released into lower orbits than expected, with numerous maneuvers required to place them back on their intended paths.
A further four satellites are currently undergoing testing before a planned launch later this year. The completed network, which is scheduled to be in place by 2020, will consist of 30 satellites, providing the EU with its own global satellite navigation system.
"With six new satellites expected to be in orbit by year’s end, we are now approaching the cruise mode of production, testing and deployment of the satellite constellation," said ESA’s Galileo Director Didier Faivre.