The European global navigation system Galileo, that in the past has been plagued with delays, has moved two small steps closer to it’s initial goal. The European Space Agency (ESA) this Friday launched the first two, of four operational satellites, designed to validate the Galileo concept in both space and on Earth. The launch was made from Kourou, French Guiana, with a Russian Soyuz rocket, that deployed the first two satellites at an altitude of nearly 23 000 km. The fully deployed Galileo system will consist of 30 satellites (27 operational + 3 active spares), positioned in three circular Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) planes at 23 222 km altitude above the Earth, and at an inclination of the orbital planes of 56 degrees to the equator.
The initial plans for the Galileo system was to be up and operational by 2014, but several delays and increased budget costs have now moved the end date well beyond that. The first Galileo satellite was planned to be launched at the end of December 2005, followed by a second in 2006. Now 6 years later these first two satellites are finally been delivered in orbit, and two more will follow in 2012 if everything now goes to plan. The European Commission is now looking to complete the 30-satellite constellation by the year 2019, with two new satellites scheduled to launch during every quarter.