ESA mission operators prepare for post launch control of twin Galileo satellites
The ESA's post launch team are ready to guide and take control of a twin set of Galileo satellites, undertaking a number of procedures and adjustments in order to ready the pair for orbital duties. The satellites are due to be hefted into orbit together atop a Russian made Soyuz rocket on August 21 from the ESA's launch site situated in French Guiana.
The post launch team is in essence responsible for the safety of the multi-million dollar satellites from the moment of the final separation. Any number of things can go wrong as the satellites are readied for hand over to the Galileo Control Center, demarcating the beginning of the operational period of the twins life in space.
Potential mistakes during this phase could render the satellites effectively useless. For example, a failure in the deployment of the solar arrays used to power one of the satellites could leave it dead in space, no more than another piece of space junk to be monitored as a further threat to the ever increasing constellations of operational satellites.
The team must also be prepared to make corrections to the attitude of the satellites as they make the upper stage separation, as the shunt away from the launch vehicle may cause the satellites to tumble. Once these initial procedures are completed the post-launch team gets to work on checking each of the satellites internal systems, ensuring that all are functioning at peak efficiency for the long mission ahead.
Due to the obvious importance of the Launch and Early Operations Phase (LEOP), the post-launch team has been drilled relentlessly over the months approaching the August launch, members readying themselves for any potential threat that could arise over the course of their week-long vigil.
The team's training took the form of 20 computer simulations mimicking every aspect of the launch. The facsimile missions ranged from a nominal situation (in which everything on the launch vehicle and satellite performed as it was designed to), to contingency situations (where there are failures or threats to the satellites operational capacity for the team to rectify).
Once complete, the Galileo mission will comprise of a constellation of 30 satellites and, among other uses, will aim to provide Europe with a global navigation system on a par with the Glonass and GPS systems used by the Russians and Americans.
The hope is to create a system with so high a level of precision, that it can be entrusted with high risk operations such as the positional guidance of aircraft and ground vehicles.
Assuming there are no complications, control of the satellites should be transferred to the Galileo Control Center only one week after launch.