First Fully Operational Galileo Craft Clears Thermal-vacuum Test

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PARIS — The first of Europe’s full-operational-capability Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites has successfully completed a crucial four weeks of thermal-vacuum testing, paving the way for the other 21 satellites to be processed, prime contractor OHB AG said Nov. 27.

A European Space Agency (ESA) official familiar with the results confirmed Nov. 27 that the testing was completed with no problems, and that the program now appears poised to deliver the first of the OHB satellites into orbit by mid-2014.

“The results are really very good, and for us the program is now on the final stretch,” the official said.

After months of unrelenting bad news about the Galileo program — late deliveries, possible government-imposed penalties and European Commission sniping about ESA program management — the completion of the test phase puts Galileo back on track.

The second of the OHB satellites has completed mechanical testing and in the coming days will be put into the same thermal-vacuum test chamber that was used to test the first one. The chamber is operated by European Test Services at ESA’s technology center in Noorwijk, Netherlands.

“With the positive completion of environmental testing, the entire satellite design has passed its most important technical challenge,” OHB Galileo program manager Pascal Knobloch said in a Nov. 27 statement.

The first fully operational Galileo satellites are to be launched two at a time aboard Europeanized versions of Russia’s Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in South America.

The thermal-vacuum test completion makes it all but certain that the Galileo program will need one or more Soyuz vehicles in 2014, a year when the rocket is already showing a crowded manifest. ESA officials have said they are looking for three Galileo campaigns next year.