The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched two further satellites that will form part of the European Commission's (EC) 30-strong Galileo satellite navigation system.
Project Galileo is the EC’s effort to remove its reliance on the US-owned GPS system which, although offered for use, could be altered or removed in times of conflict. Galileo will be more accurate than GPS, allowing positioning to within one metre.
The launch of the two satellites takes the total now in orbit to eight. They were deployed on Friday at just before 10pm UK time, and were launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on top of a Soyuz rocket (pictured above).
The satellites reached orbit four hours after launch at an altitude of 23,500km, and will now enter a period of testing before being handed over for operational control in the summer. Four more satellites are scheduled for launch during the year.
Elżbieta Bieńkowska, European commissioner for internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SME, welcomed the launch as another step forward for Europe.
"The successful launch of two Galileo satellites takes us one step closer to a global European satellite navigation system,” she said.
"Today we demonstrated again that Europe has state-of-the-art know-how, cutting edge technology, and the vision and determination to accomplish great things.
“Whether you're hoping to benefit from the next generation of in-car satellite navigation, or the reassurance of knowing that the coastguard can deploy search and rescue, Galileo will soon provide you with great opportunities."
The successful launch will also be a welcome relief to the ESA and EC after an incident last year in which the sixth satellite entered the wrong orbit, potentially making it unusable for the Galileo project.
However, the ESA recently confirmed that a project to push the satellite back into the correct orbit had proved successful.
“I am very proud of what our teams at ESA and industry have achieved,” said Marco Falcone, head of the Galileo system office.
“Our intention was to recover this mission from the very early days after the wrong orbit injection. This is what we are made for at ESA.”
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