PARIS – The European Space Agency (ESA) took on Tuesday another step to complete its own global satellite navigation system, called Galileo, successfully launching an Ariane 5 rocket with four new navigation satellites into orbit.
After the rocket left the launchpad in Kourou, French Guiana, at 1839 GMT, with a delay of three minutes, the sequence planned by ESA completed normally.
The separation of the satellites took place as planned at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, and the shuttle reached an altitude of 22,925 kilometers in its final stadium. The four satellites, weighing 715 kilograms each, were then located about 300 kilometers below Galileo’s operational satellites and will maneuver autonomously to join the rest.
With the four navigation satellites launched on Tuesday, there are now 22 satellites of the Galileo constellation in orbit.
To complete the entire program, in which ESA and the European Commission (EC) participate, there will be another launch in 2018, with four more satellites, which will create the full Galileo constellation.
The operation is a step forward for ESA to fully develop a more accurate navigation system than the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS).
According to ESA, the margin of error in locating an object equipped with a chip receiving the Galileo constellation signal will be less than 1 meter. Galileo’s accuracy is already now between 1 and 1.5 meters.
Therefore, Galileo implies a significant improvement, compared to the GPS accuracy of 4 to 5 meters.
The first Galileo experimental satellites were sent into space in 2005 and 2008, although their operations did not begin until three years later.
One of those launched in 2012 presented problems with the antenna, which allows its use only partially.
Also, there was an incident with two satellites launched in 2014, initially sent into an unwanted orbit but that could be corrected later. They both are now operating normally.
All of Galileo satellites are designed to have a lifespan of a dozen years, although experience indicates that, unless an unforeseen event occurs, in practice it is longer until they run out of fuel.