Latest Galileo navigation satellite has arrived at ESA’s Technical Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands for testing. Meanwhile the previous two satellites are ready to be launched together by Soyuz rocket this summer from the European spaceport in Kourou (French Guiana).
The new satellite travelled safely by lorry enclosed within an air-conditioned and environmentally controlled container from manufacturer OHB in Bremen (Germany). The container was unsealed only once the satellite had completed its journey by road to the cleanroom conditions in ESTEC, Europe’s largest site for spacecraft testing.
Europe’s first four Galileo satellites are already in orbit, the minimum number needed for achieving a position fix. This initial quartet has demonstrated the overall system works as planned, while also serving as the operational nucleus of the coming full constellation.
Apart from the two satellites in Kourou and a third one already being tested in ESTEC, 19 more satellites (22 in total) are to be built by OHB, incorporating navigation payloads produced by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd in the UK. All of them will be tested in ESTEC within the next few years on their way to space.
The key checks of the satellite “acceptance testing” includes an acoustic battering to reproduce the violent forces of launch, and a session in a thermal–vacuum chamber to subject the satellite to the airlessness and temperature extremes it must endure over the course of its 12-year working life.
This latest round will be quicker and less thorough than the full-scale testing that the first two underwent over the course of last year, with the overall satellite design having now been validated.
A fourth satellite is scheduled to arrive at ESTEC soon (the test facilities can accommodate two Galileos at a time).
Such a changeover between satellites arriving as others are being readied to leave for launch will become commonplace in the next few years, as Europe builds up its constellation.
And in future two-satellite Soyuz launches will be supplemented by four-satellite Ariane 5 launches, employing a specially customised version of the launcher.