The ESA has successfully corrected the orbit of its sixth Galileo satellite following its launch into an elongated orbit in August 2014. It took 14 maneuvers to reposition the probe, which is designed to form part of a new global navigation system on par with existing GPS and Glonass solutions.
The fifth and six Galileo satellites were launched together in August 2014, and are designed to follow the same path on their course around Earth, orbiting on opposite sides of the planet. Due to a malfunction during assent, the two satellites were launched into a lower orbit than intended, with the sixth probe hitting altitudes of between 13,713 km (8,521 miles) and 25,900 km (16,094 miles), bring it into contact with the harmful Van Allen Belt.
The plan to recover the sixth satellite to an operational orbit was devised by the ESA's Galileo team in conjunction with the agency's ESOC operations center, SpaceOpal and the CNES space agency. The operation began in January, taking six weeks and including 14 separate maneuvers. The team worked to slowly raise the lowest point of the orbit by more than 3,500 km (2,175 miles) while making it more circular.
The sixth satellite joins the fifth, the orbit of which also required correction after launch, with 11 adjustments being completed in November 2014. The two probes will now work in tandem, but they'll require significant testing before they can become operational.
Readings from the fifth satellite were positive following the activation of navigation and search and rescue payloads towards the end of 2014. The sixth Galileo satellite will now undergo the same testing, with the results determining whether the probe is ultimately fit for its intended purpose.
"I am very proud of what our teams at the ESA and industry have achieved," said Marco Falcone, the head of the Galileo systems office. "Our intention was to recover this mission from the very early days after the wrong orbit injection. This is what we are made for at ESA."
The next two Galileo satellites are due to be launched into orbit on March 27.