Galileo next-gen satellites to be more powerful, reconfigurable

August 14, 2020  - By

ESA shifts from Galileo transition plan to full second-generation plan.

News from the European Space Agency

With 26 satellites now in orbit and more than 1.5 billion smartphones and devices worldwide receiving highly accurate navigation signals, Europe’s Galileo navigation system will soon become even better, ensuring quality services over the next decades.

Following the European Commission’s decision to accelerate development of Galileo Next Generation, ESA has asked European satellite manufacturers to submit bids for the first batch of the Galileo Second Generation (G2) satellites. The new spacecraft are expected to be launched in about four years.

Paul Verhoef, director of the Galileo Programme addresses the audience at ESA's annual Navigation Days, held Jan. 26. (Photo: ESA)

Paul Verhoef, director of the Galileo Programme. (Photo: ESA)

The next-generation satellites will provide all the services and capabilities of the current first generation with a substantial improvements and new services and capabilities.

“We want an ultra-flexible and mostly digital design,” said Paul Verhoef, ESA director of Navigation.

“Developing the second generation is challenging for both industry and for ESA. In 2024, we need to launch the first satellites for this new state-of-the-art constellation.”

Invitation to Tender

Following almost 24 months of a competitive dialogue procedure with the three large system integrators involved, ESA issued a “Best and Final Offer” invitation to tender on Aug. 11 to Airbus, OHB System AG and Thales Alenia Space.

ESA is implementing a dual-sourcing approach, and two parallel contracts are expected to be signed by the end of 2020 among the current three bidders. Under the plan, each of the two selectees will build two satellites for development purposes, with options for up to 12 satellites in total.

The first satellites of the new constellation are expected to be launched before the end of 2024, together with updated ground systems to support the new satellites.

Reconfigurable in Orbit

In addition to being more powerful, the second-generation Galileo satellites will be more flexible, able to be reconfigured in orbit in order to satisfy the expected evolution in end-user needs.

A number of challenges exist for the bidders. The goal of a digital and fully flexible design represents the cutting edge of industrial capability.

Navigation Antenna Progress

A Galileo satellite undergoes its fit-check validation at the Spaceport. Flight VA240. (Photo: ESA/Arianespace)

A Galileo satellite undergoes its fit-check validation at the Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana. (Photo: ESA/Arianespace)

Furthermore, the required navigation antennas will have a very advanced design; much research and development by ESA has been done, yet more remains for industry.

ESA has already built such an antenna as a proof of concept at the Agency’s ESTEC technology center in the Netherlands to ensure feasibility, and the know-how has been shared with the three bidders.

“Each bidder must determine how they can best manufacture the navigation antenna, and we’ll have to see how each proposes to do it. Also, requiring a fully flexible payload is quite a challenge. No such navigation spacecraft of that type have flown yet,” Verhoef said.

Ambitious Plan

The European Commission has decided that what was previously going to be called the “transition batch” of new satellites will now become, in fact, the Galileo Second Generation satellites. The European Commission and EU Member States have already made clear that they want to be very ambitious and further increase the technical capabilities of the Galileo system.

The name change reflects of how the current batch is actually shaping up.

The transition satellites were initially foreseen as interim upgrades, to cater for the potential risk of late delivery of the later, completely new and very advanced G2 satellites.

Estimated Lifetime Increased

Based on constant measurements of the performance of the current satellites in orbit, their predicted lifetime has increased. So, together with a slight spreading out of the launches of the Batch 3 satellites — currently under construction by OHB and in testing at ESTEC —this will ensure service continuity before the new, advanced capabilities of Galileo become operational.

The second-generation satellites will gradually take over from the current first-generation satellites in the provision of Galileo services. At a future date, they will all constitute a complete constellation plus the necessary in-orbit spares.

ESA serves as the design, development and procurement agent for Galileo satellites on behalf of the European Commission, which funds the system overall.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.