2, 4, 6, 8 — Who Do We Appreciate?

January 29, 2015  - By

Galileo, that’s who! For dogged determination and persistent pushing-forwardness in the face of adversity, obstacles, and the occasional technical difficulty. That there may be occasional confusion, as well, or mixed messages as to just what the future may bring, is certainly understandable. In fact, it is to be expected, given the circumstances.

Let’s review the math.


Two for the two launch vehicles that Galileo may use in the near future, Soyuz Fregat and Ariane 5. The Soyuz rocket can lift two satellites of the Galileo punching weight. The Ariane 5 rocket can carry four into space.

Soyuz Fregat has a losing record so far with Galileo, being responsible for the August 2014 loosening of the first two full-operational capability (FOC) satellites into the dangerous Van Allen Belt. The first of these satellites has been successfully repositioned by the European Space Agency (ESA) into a mostly-but-not-totally useable orbit, and the second is currently en route to a similar spot.

We do not wish to say we told you so, but we will. Back on March 26, 2014, we wrote on these virtual pages, “ESA’s year-end plan calls for two more dual-satellite launches in October and December on Russian Soyuz rockets — new partners to the Galileo dance, bringing perhaps new technical connectivity issues.”

“Rockets are tricky,” said Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, after his Falcon 9 Reusable rocket exploded over Texas at roughly the same time that Soyuz Fregat mis-delivered two Galileo satellites into wrong orbits.

Musk meant tricky in actual operation, but we may also add, tricky in scheduling, in getting a cargo aboard a spacebound vehicle. Arianespace’s calendar is particularly filled with telecomm satellites impatient to be put aloft, with Ariane 5 being the preferred launcher of many. Soyuz availability, understandably, is somewhat more open.


Four for the total of four Galileo satellites now orbiting and broadcasting useable signals at all times for all users. These four come from the in-orbit validation (IOV) generation.


The two added FOC satellites, no longer in a bad orbit, now in a sort-of-pretty-good orbit, should be useable at some times, for some purposes, by some people. Peter Steigenberger and André Hauschild, researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) / German Space Operations Center, wrote in this magazine in January that:

“Despite the orbit injection error, the new Galileo FOC satellite has now been successfully activated and added to the Galileo constellation. Unfortunately, the current orbit is incompatible with the standard Galileo almanac format, which may cause restrictions for some commercial receiver types.

“Nevertheless, the satellite can already be tracked by a wide range of geodetic receivers with existing firmware versions and it will, in fact, be possible to use the new satellite for diverse applications in surveying, precise positioning, and geodesy, as well as in general multi-GNSS studies. We now look forward to the activation of the second FOC satellite, which can be expected in early 2015 and will, for the first time, offer multi-frequency signals from a total of five Galileo satellites.”

If you have four fully useable satellites and two partially useable satellites, what do you have? Does six = five functionally in this case? Or perhaps 5.5?


Six for the oncoming new Galileo FOC satellites to be launched in 2015, according to some schedules and some official announcements.

On a year-opening preview of operations given on Jan. 19, Thomas Reiter, Head of the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, outlined the launch schedule for Galileo in 2015. Six new FOC satellites in total:

  • Galileo L4 with two on March 26
  • Galileo L5 with two in September
  • Galileo L6 with two in December.


Now, six satellites divided by three launch dates gives two satellites per launch. Seeming to indicate a Soyuz rocket for all three dates. Reiter did not mention any rocket by name, but this would be the inference.

That’s putting a brave face on the situation. Back in May, Russia suffered its fifth rocket launch crash in the past four years, raising serious concerns about the reliability of Russian rockets and launch procedures. Subsequently, the August Galileo launch that went so wrong was controlled by Arianespace, but it did use the Russian equipment.

It strains credulity that an omission or oversight in the system thermal analysis  during stage design of a million-dollar rocket, designed to carry million-plus-dollar satellites in a 21st-century endeavor, could permit the creation of a thermal bridge between two feed lines, causing one of them to freeze during a crucial phase of space operations — but that is what apparently happened at some point at NPO Lavochkin in Russia, and that is what ultimately caused Galileo such misfortune. All parties concerned swear that this problem has been corrected in every other Soyuz Fregat, but who knows what other anomalies lie undiscovered therein?

So putting all your 2015 money aboard Soyuzes is really rolling the marbles. Even if, as Elżbieta Bienkowska, Member of the EC in charge of Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs stated at this week’s 7th European Space Conference: EU Space Policy Confronted With the Rising Demand for Services and Applications, “We agreed to contract insurance for the next launches.”


Eight for the oncoming new Galileo FOC satellites to be launched in 2015, according to other schedules and other official announcements.

“2015 will be a crucial year for the European space industry. We have big plans,” said Maros Sefcoviv, vice-president of the EC in charge of Energy Union, earlier at the very same 7th European Space conference, EU Space Policy Confronted With the Rising Demand for Services and Applications.

“On the biggest one, we are planning five launches, which will bring up to space 10 satellites: eight for our Galileo constellation, and two for Copernicus. This is something that will put these programs over, I would say, over the edge, in a way, to be able to offer early services from Galileo, and to develop the program of Copernicus. It would prove the resilience and competitiveness of the European space industry, and its ability to serve the businesses, and what I think is most important, to offer new kinds of services to the citizens.”

“For our flagship programs like Galileo and EGNOS, our priority must be to deliver services as soon as possible. That is why the satellites have to be delivered and operations must be ready as soon as possible.”

Now, if you have eight satellites to go up in three launches, that would mean one of them has to go with four aboard. Thus, an Ariane 5 Galileo launch this year after all? Or possibly four Soyuz launches, although one more launch date could just just as hard to come by as a launch vehicle.

Hard to tell. Very hard to tell. Extremely hard to tell, from the outside.

Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it, goes the dictum. Those who do study GNSS history, in this case, are likely only to repeat past pronouncements without any perceptible advance in clarity.

Way, way back in March 2013, an EC program manager told GPS World, “Then, in 2014 [after four FOC satellites were to rise in 2013, which did not happen] we will see three Soyuz launches of two satellites each. We do not have the precise launch dates yet, but they are likely to be in April, June, and September. In December 2014, we expect to have the first launch using the Ariane 5 launcher, which is capable of deploying four satellites in one go. This means that by the end of 2014 Galileo will have deployed 18 satellites in orbit.”

Now, the target has moved several times since then, and the schedule has slid accordingly.

“In 2015, there will be two Ariane 5 launches, one in the middle of the year, one at the end, each carrying four satellites.”

Six or Eight?

Either number this year, we would surely appreciate. To return to Ms. Bienkowska, she left a little fudge room in her presentation: “We aim to launch at least six satellites this year.”

Well, at least we are all moving forward. Resolutely.


I am indebted to Tim Reynolds, GPS World’s Brussels-based European correspondent, and to Peter de Selding, Paris bureau chief of SpaceNews, for their assistance in gathering diverse intelligence on this topic. Tim Reynolds will have an up-to-date view of this and other Galileo developments when we publish the next issue of the EAGER* newsletter at the end of March. Subscribe for free.

* The European GNSS and Earth Observation Report

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About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.

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