The European Space Agency (ESA) announced that an Ariane 5 rocket has launched four additional Galileo satellites, accelerating deployment of the new satellite navigation system, which is expected to start initial services by the end of the year.
On 17 November 2016 the Ariane 5, operated by Arianespace, lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana carrying Galileo satellites 15 to 18. The first pair was released 3 hours 35 minutes and 44 seconds after liftoff, while the second separated 20 minutes later.
The Galileos are at their target altitude and have begun tests to ensure they are ready to join the constellation. This is expected to take six months or so. However, the satellites already in orbit will allow the European Commission to declare the start of initial services, expected towards year’s end. The previous 14 satellites were launched two at a time using the Soyuz–Fregat rocket.
“Now that we can rely on the powerful Ariane 5, we can anticipate the quicker completion of Galileo deployment, permitting the system to enter full operation,” remarked Paul Verhoef, ESA’s Director for the Galileo Programme and Navigation-related Activities.
Two additional Ariane 5 launches are scheduled in 2017 and 2018. The full system of 24 satellites plus spares is expected to be in place by 2020.
“With this 75th successful launch in a row, Ariane-5 sets a new record within European developed launchers and proves once more its reliability," said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s Director for Launchers.