Last Galileo satellite leaves ESA Test Centre

September 5, 2017  - By

Enclosed in its protective container, Galileo Full Operational Capability (FOC) Flight Model 21 (FM21) is seen departing ESA’s ESTEC Test Centre on Aug. 24. Photos courtesy of the European Space Agency

News from the European Space Agency

The last of 22 Galileo satellites has departed the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Test Centre in the Netherlands. This concludes the single longest and largest scale test campaign in the establishment’s history, ESA said.

Cocooned in a protective container for its journey — equipped with air conditioning, temperature control and shock absorbers — the final Galileo satellite left the establishment by lorry on Aug. 24.

ESA’s Test Centre at ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, houses a collection of test equipment to simulate all aspects of spaceflight. It is operated for ESA by private company European Test Services (ETS) B.V.

In May 2013, the Test Centre began testing the first of 22 Galileo “Full Operational Capability” (FOC) satellites, having previously performed the same function for the very first Galileo “In-Orbit Validation” satellite under a separate contract.

Photo courtesy of the European Space Agency

Pictured is a Galileo Full Operational Capability satellite being removed from the Phenix thermal vacuum chamber after a fortnight-long “hot and cold” vacuum test.

The Galileo FOC satellites had their platforms built by OHB System AG in Germany, incorporating navigation payloads coming from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. in the United Kingdom. They then traveled on to ESTEC to be subjected to the equivalent vibration, acoustic noise, vacuum and temperature extremes that they will experience for real during their launch and orbit, plus testing of their radio systems.

With a steady stream of satellites coming off the production line, the challenge for the combined ETS and OHB team overseeing Galileo testing was to put them through all necessary tests on a rapid and efficient basis, while also keeping the Test Centre accessible to other European missions requiring its unique services.

A total of 14 FOC satellites have since joined the first four IOV satellites in orbit, forming an 18-strong constellation that began Initial Services to global users on Dec. 15, 2016. The next four FOC satellites are scheduled for launch on an Ariane on Dec. 5.

Photo courtesy of the European Space Agency

Europe’s Galileo navigation satellites orbit 23 222 km above Earth to provide positioning, navigation and timing information all across the globe.

“For the first time in more than four years, there are no Galileo satellites in the Test Centre, but hopefully this will not be the end of our association with the programme,” said Jörg Selle, managing director for ETS. “The contract for making the next eight Galileo satellites — known as Batch 3 — was also awarded to OHB last June, and ETS will be bidding for the contract to test these satellites too.”

“The availability of the ETS facilities in ESTEC have substantially contributed to the programme,” said Paul Verhoef, ESA director of the Galileo Programme and navigation-related activities. “We thank ETS for their professionalism and support over this extended period.”

The final Galileo travelled back to OHB in Germany for some final refurbishment ahead of its launch together with another three satellites in December.