European government authorities are expected to confirm to international regulators in late February that the required use of the frequencies reserved for the Galileo satellite-navigation system have been brought into use by the Giove-A test satellite launched Dec. 28.
The 600-kilogram satellite, equipped with two rubidium atomic clocks and two signal-generation units, was successfully placed into a medium Earth orbit by a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Built and now operated by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Guildford, England, with a payload provided by the European Space Agency (), Giove-A’s main role is to meet a June 2006 deadline for using the Galileo radio frequencies reserved in 2000 with the International Telecommunication Union of Geneva, a United Nations affiliate.
As of Jan. 6, Giove-A’s conduct in orbit had been flawless, according to Maarten Meerman, SSTL director of research. Tests of the satellite’s platform were completed Jan. 6. The electronics payload was scheduled to be switched on by Jan. 12, permitting program managers to verify the precise structure of the frequencies they want to use for the full 30-satellite Galileo constellation inside the band of frequencies they have reserved.
SSTL built Giove-A for ESA under a contract valued at 28 million euros ($33.2 million).
A second test satellite, Giove-B — designed to assure that Europe made the mid-2006 frequency filing even if Giove-A failed — is scheduled for launch in April, also by a Soyuz-Fregat vehicle. Giove-B is being built by Galileo Industries S.A. of Brussels, a consortium of Europe’s largest space-hardware manufacturers that was formed for the Galileo program.
Giove-B will more closely resemble the satellites to be used for the operational Galileo constellation and will carry a Passive Hydrogen Maser atomic clock, a more accurate device than the rubidium technology used for Giove-A.
In 2008 or 2009, four Galileo validation satellites, also built by Galileo Industries, are scheduled to be launched to begin testing the system’s navigation and timing capabilities.
The 26 remaining satellites in the Galileo constellation will be contracted by a private-sector consortium that includes members of Galileo Industries. That consortium is in negotiations with a government-appointed entity called the Galileo Joint Undertaking to create a concession to operate the Galileo system. A contract is scheduled to be signed by late 2006.
The Galileo concession then ultimately will decide who builds and launches the remaining satellites in the first-generation Galileo constellation.
As things stand now, SSTL is unlikely to have any further involvement with Galileo once Giove-A’s two-year mission is completed. The company is not a member of Galileo Industries, nor is it participating in the Galileo concession bid.
But for SSTL and the British government, the successful launch and operation of Giove-A brings potential rewards beyond the single satellite.
Meerman said Jan. 6 that Giove-A’s platform is the first flight model of a design the company expects to propose to commercial satellite operators for use in geostationary orbit, the orbit of most commercial satellites.
“The Galileo orbit is not geostationary, but it’s already much higher than the low Earth orbit in which we usually operate, in a different radiation environment and with subsystems that can be demonstrated for geostationary missions,” Meerman said.
The Giove-A platform is based on SSTL’s Gemini design, some of whose technologies were financed by British government research grants. Meerman said that some British calculations suggest that the mere fact of having low-cost, small-satellite specialist SSTL build the first Galileo satellite has brought down the future cost of the Galileo constellation by setting a competitive example. If that is the case, he said, the British government, as one of the nations paying for Galileo, will save money because of SSTL’s performance with Giove-A.