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Second Wayward Galileo FOC Moving Higher

January 20, 2015  - By

At a press conference on Jan. 16, Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain of the European Space Agency (ESA)  announced that the second errant full-operational capability (FOC) satellite, launched in August, had started its orbital change maneuver the previous day. He anticipated that the orbital change would be completed and the final orbit — “albeit somewhat lower in height than the one into which it was supposed to go” — achieved in “a few weeks.” He confirmed that both in-orbit FOCs are working well, fully operational, and providing excellent “on specification” positioning data.

The fifth Galileo satellite is now pointing toward Earth.

The first errant Galileo satellite is now pointing toward Earth.

Two more FOC satellites are ready for launch, and a third has undergone thermal vacuum testing at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) facility in the Netherlands. Dordain said four would be available to launch soon, and he anticipated up to six FOCs being ready for launch during 2015.

The previous plan had called for four for 2015, but the year’s anticipated total now includes the two that were held back from launch during a December 2014 window, so the total number is the same. The actual launch schedule and launch vehicles are still under discussion, according to Dordain, and he said the European Commission (EC) would make a decision at the end of January on this issue. He refused to be drawn out on what ESA would recommend to EC on this front.

Jean-Jacques Dordain

Jean-Jacques Dordain

“As you know, Soyuz did not place the first two FOC satellites in the right orbit. They only achieved very low orbits. This led and is still leading to delays in the deployment of the Galileo constellation. However, it’s not all bad news, because the two FOC satellites are working perfectly,” Dordain said.

“One of the two has already had its orbit changed, last November, and once in its new orbit, we ran all the new payload tests, and all the data that we have show that the FOC payload is the best in orbit today of the Galileo satellites. We were able to achieve on-spec positioning with the first FOC and the IOV satellites. It provides us with highly accurate positioning data,” Dordain said.

“Once we have both FOCs in their final orbits, not their nominal orbits, it’s true, but they are orbits that mean they will be usable for a long time, because they no longer go through the Van Allen belts.”

A video of the news conference is available here. The Galileo portion of the 2-hour video begins at 11:45. The event took place at ESA-HQ, Paris, France.

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About the Author: Tim Reynolds

Tim Reynolds is director of Inta Communication Ltd. and a long-term Brussels observer writing on many aspects of European government policy and implementation for a range of clients and publications. He is the contributing editor for GPS World’s new quarterly e-newsletter, EAGER: the European GNSS and Earth Observation Report.