Delayed Soyuz Launches Galileo Satellites
October 21, 2011

Delayed Soyuz Launches Galileo Satellites

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Europe´s first two satellites for its Galileo global positioning system were launched Friday from French Guiana aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

The launch of the Soyuz rocket from French Guiana also marks the first time the Russian rocket has launched from outside the former Soviet Union.

The rocket lifted off at 7:30 a.m. local time from the base near Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America. The Galileo navigational satellites were scheduled for separation four hours after launch. The operation went off without a hitch, despite heavy rains in the area.

“All went well,” Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the Arianespace rocket launch company, told Reuters in a statement after the launch.

Russia´s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said this was the first time that two teams worked together on the launch of the Soyuz. 

“We have been able to combine the best spacial activity aspects of both governments, that of France and that of Russia,” said Ivanov. “I am convinced that will yield us good results.”

This launch was “a great result” that sends “a very strong political message,” said Antonio Tajani, the EU´s industry and enterprise commissioner. “Europe shows that she is capable of managing a big project just days from the European economic summit.”

The launch was scheduled for Thursday, but a leaky valve in the rocket´s fueling system grounded the mission for 24 hours while engineers worked to fix the problem.

The two satellites, Galileo IOV-1 PFM and FM2, are the first of 30 satellites the EU plans to put into orbit for its new navigation system. Once the system is fully operational, later this decade, Europeans will no longer need to rely on the US government-controlled GPS network.

The Galileo system has been fraught by disorganization, debates and delays, but officials are hoping this will mark the dawn of the EU´s independence from the American GPS network.

The EU wants its Galileo to dominate the future with a system that is more precise and more reliable than GPS, while controlled by the civilian sector, rather than the government. It foresees applications ranging from precision seeding on farmland to pinpoint positioning for search-and-rescue missions. The EU also hopes the system will be a financial godsend.

“If Europe wants to be competitive and independent in the future, the EU needs to have its own satellite navigation system to also create new economic opportunities,” Herbert Reul, head of the EU parliament's industry, research and energy committee, told the Associated Press.

The system is still years out from being operational, but the satellite launch is a major step in getting Galileo on track. It will start operating in 2014 as a consumer navigation system, with more services being implemented by 2020, when the EU expects the system to be fully operational. 

The idea for Galileo has been in the works since the late 1990s, but its development has been pushed back several times, particularly due to budget restraints. In 2008, when it became clear that private investors were not going to finance the project, the EU made the decision to develop the program at taxpayers´ expense.

The European Commission said the development and deployment of the system is estimated at well over $6.8 billion, and maintaining the system will cost about $1.35 billion a year. The EU hopes, however, that the system will bring in $125 billion in industrial revenues and public benefits over the next 20 years.

Instead of building a new rocket to launch its satellites into orbit, Europe decided to build a $500 million launch pad for Soyuz at the French Guiana base where it already launches its Ariane rockets. France has covered more than 80 percent of the construction costs and all of the $100 million+ cost overruns.

The Russian State Space Agency -- Roscosmos -- will receive tens of millions of dollars for each rocket it builds and ships to French Guiana for launching.

“Soyuz will give us a complete range of launchers,” Le Gall told Reuters.

Contracts for 16 of 30 planned Galileo satellites have already been signed: four with Franco-German maker Astrium and 12 with German company OHB.

Arianespace is principally owned by the French Space Agency (CNES) with 34 percent and Astrium, a wholly owned subsidiary of European aerospace giant EADS, holding 30 percent.


Image Caption: Galileo launch on Soyuz, 21 Oct 2011. Credit: ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE - S. Corvaja


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