Two more satellites that will form part of the European Galileo satellite positioning network have reached orbit after lifting off from French Guiana at 08:48 today.
The satellites are numbers 13 and 14 of a planned 30, and today's launch was the seventh of the Galileo programme.
The satellites are in orbit at almost 23,222km and will now be slowly engineered into position in the constellation of the other satellites.
This morning's launch was the last to take place using the Soyuz rocket, before a move to the Ariane 5 that will be able to carry four satellites, rather than two. The European Space Agency (ESA) expects the GPS system to be live by 2020.
“Today’s textbook launch has added two more satellites to what has become Europe’s largest satellite constellation,” said Jan Woerner, director general of ESA.
“It was made possible by the fact that European industry’s manufacturing and testing of Galileo satellites has achieved a steady tempo.”
The ESA will be glad to get another two satellites safely in orbit after a launch in 2014 saw two end up in the wrong orbit owing to a bug in the Russian software used during the launch. The satellites' positions were eventually corrected.
The Galileo project is the EC's attempt to remove its reliance on satellite navigation systems from the US or Russia, which are under military control and could have access to the data removed.
Galileo is a civilian system, thereby removing this risk. The 30 satellites will provide positioning data to within a few centimetres, which could have benefits for a range of industries.
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