First Two Galileo Craft Complete On-orbit Checkout

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PARIS — The first two satellites to operate as part of Europe’s future Galileo positioning, navigation and timing constellation have completed their early checkout phase in orbit, with control of them transferred to a German ground facility, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Nov. 4.

The two identical satellites, which were launched together Oct. 21 from Europe’s Guiana Space Center on the inaugural flight of a European version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket, will now have their navigation systems tested by the Galileo Control Center operated by the German space agency in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.

Government and industry officials said completion of the satellites’ Launch and Early Operations Phase (LEOP), which had been scheduled to last no more than a week, took longer than expected. But two officials said the delay was not because of problem aboard the satellites, which they said are in good health.

The two satellites will operate in medium Earth orbit at 23,222 kilometers in altitude, inclined at 56 degrees relative to the equator. A final two identical spacecraft are scheduled for launch in mid-2012, also aboard a Europeanized Soyuz rocket. The four satellites make up what is called Galileo’s In-Orbit Validation Segment.

Fourteen other Galileo satellites are under construction and scheduled for launch beginning in late 2012 or early 2013.

The commission of the 27-nation European Union has enough money in its current Galileo budget to order six or eight additional spacecraft, and expects to make an award in early 2012. Funding to complete the planned 30-satellite system will await the commission’s next seven-year budget allocation, beginning in 2014.