Thanks Galileo: How the constellation can boost positioning accuracy for space missions

March 15, 2023  - By
Image: ESA

Image: ESA

The Navigation Support Office at the Mission Control Centre of the European Space Operations Center (ESOC) has been tasked with providing independent precise orbit determination for European space missions. ESOC, which is based in Darmstadt, Germany, is a part of the of the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA aims to use high-quality signals from Galileo alongside GPS to sharpen the orbital positioning levels for future space missions.

The Navigation Support Office has used the positive results of the Copernicus Sentinel-6 mission — one of the first missions to fly a joint Galileo-GPS capable receiver, which improved positioning capabilities — to prove to ESA mission teams that future missions can harness the power of Galileo to improve positioning accuracy.

Missions in the works 

Proba-3 is a precision formation flying mission that aims to launch in 2024. The mission consists of two small satellites launched together that will separate to fly in tandem to prepare for future multi-satellite missions flying as one virtual structure. This mission will require millimeter-scale positioning precision and use a variety of positioning methods, including optical, radio and laser links and GNSS such as Galileo.

The ESA-supported Lunar Pathfinder will be launched into lunar orbit in 2024 with the intent of using it as a communication satellite for future moon missions. The spacecraft will incorporate a specially designed GPS- and Galileo-capable receiver that aims to demonstrate the feasibility of positioning fixes from 400,000 km away.

The future of Galileo

Galileo serves Europe and the world with accurate and reliable navigation services as well as a catalyst for future space missions — making it a critical aspect of both everyday life and the enhancement of accurate navigation. The constellation will continue to grow with 10 more Galileo first-generation satellites planned for launch in the next few years. Second-generation Galileo satellites with enhanced capabilities are being built for testing and qualification at ESA’s European Space Technology and Research Centre as well.

About the Author: Maddie Saines

Maddie was a managing editor at GPS World.