This week, there will be two new navigation satellites launched into orbit by the European Union (EU) to reinitiate the Galileo project. This will be quite the adventure, as no satellites have been launched since last August, after a problem with a deployment that caused a loss of millions of Euros. The current launch is set for Friday, 26 March at 17:46 EDT, bringing the number of Galileo satellites in orbit to eight.
The Galileo project is something that the EU began as a system to implement over the U.S. Global Positioning System. The EU is required now to use a Russian Soyuz rocket to get the satellites up to space because the Ariane 5 rocket from Arianespace Europe is not quite ready and won’t be until the end of the year. Unfortunately, due to the issues in the Ukraine, this has caused issues for the EU satellite program launch.
The EU’s previous two satellites initially failed due to the fact they were not put into the correct orbit; the cause was a problem with a defective module, which was built in Russia. Thus, the EU is now going to buy special insurance to cover any satellite launches in the future. This has not been done in the past in order to save money.
Even though the two problem satellites were eventually put into a workable orbit, there are still millions of Euros worth of alterations necessary to adjust equipment to the unexpected orbits. Whether to make the necessary adjustments is still under consideration.
Navigation satellites are an important part of the world’s navigation systems. They work by providing autonomous geo-spatial positioning. This lets receivers on the ground on Earth (like a GPS in your car) know where they are by determining things like longitude, latitude and altitude, with exact precision in just a few moments.
Currently, the U.S. uses the NAVSTAR system, the Russians use GLONASS, and China is trying to develop their own system. This recent satellite launch by the EU and the one scheduled this week, would help the EU get their system going as well.
The EU also hopes to send up two more satellite launches later in 2015, which would help to further put the Galileo system into service; the full service could be in effect by 2020.