Arianespace has confirmed that the third and fourth Full Operational Capability (FOC) satellites built for the Galileo constellation are “fit” for the launch expected in March. The satellites have been undergoing a series of rigorous tests since the EU announced that the Galileo system would continue forward with three launches.
Early last week, the two satellites made initial contact with the mission’s dual-payload dispenser in French Guiana, and were installed and removed separately during the tests. The dispenser itself will be fully integrated closer to the launch, and will hold one satellite on each side.
These mission has a planned launch date of March 27 and will use a Soyuz rocket to propel the navigation satellites into their final orbit. The Soyuz rocket, you might recall, was the same model that resulted in the erroneous orbit of two satellites last year. The malfunction that caused the problem has, of course, been fixed.
With the successful launch of these two satellites, Galileo will have eight satellites in orbit–only a few shy of the number needed for initial operability. I haven’t seen any dates for other launches, but the European Space Agency reported in January that there are currently four completed satellites waiting for launch, with an additional two expected to be ready later this year.
The Galileo system will be the first non government-owned satellite navigation constellation and is expected to be used commercially and for rescue operations with extreme pinpoint accuracy. With all of the setbacks in the last year or so, I’m not really sure when Galileo is expected to be completed, but I’d be surprised to see it much before 2020.