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A SOYUS VS-6 from Arianespace launched the No. 27 and 28 satellites for the European navigation system GALILEO into space on 5 December 2021 from the European spaceport in French Guiana. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the two satellites have been parked in an intermediate orbit where, in the so-called launch and early operations phase, the on-board systems will be gradually tested for operational use and the descent into the final working orbit at an altitude of 23,222 km above Earth will be initiated.

Following an upgrade of the global ground segment, the Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP) will be controlled for the first time by GALILEO operator SpaceOpal at GALILEO’s own control centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, the ESA writes.

The new satellites are the first two of the final batch three of 12 first-generation satellites that will complete GALILEO’s full operational capability concept. The satellites are being manufactured and tested by OHB in Germany with navigation payloads from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. This final batch of first-generation satellites is due to be launched into orbit over the next three years.

According to ESA, the “GALILEO Second Generation” (G2G) satellites are currently being developed by Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space. A total of 12 satellites were commissioned in the middle of the year. According to ESA, they are the most advanced, powerful and fully reconfigurable navigation satellites ever built. The G2G satellites are larger than previous ones and for the first time feature electric propulsion. The first start of G2G is planned for 2024.

The steady expansion of the GALILEO system is intended to improve the accuracy and interference resistance of the European navigation system.