Galileo programme steps away from Soyuz rockets

The EU satellite navigation programme Galileo signed a 500 million euro agreement for three Ariane-5 launchers on August 20 with Arianespace, which will bring an operational Galileo service much closer. Russian-made Soyuz launchers have been used so far in the program.

Separately, the launch of two new fully operational Galileo satellites on a Soyuz rocket has been delayed due to weather.

The agreement to provide three Ariane-5 launchers will reduce the EU’s use of external parties for placing its Galileo satellites into orbit — another step on the road to the EU’s goal to secure independent access to space.

Ariane 5 rockets are manufactured under the authority of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES). Airbus Defence and Space is the prime contractor for the vehicles.

As the launchers are manufactured in the EU this is also a win for European business, the EU said in a press release. The Ariane-5 launcher will carry four satellites at a time into orbit, twice the capacity of the current launchers and will start to be used in 2015. The number of launches needed for the full set of satellites required for commercial operations will therefore decrease.

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(Artist’s view of one of the first two Galileo full operational capability satellites. Image credit: ESA–J. Huart)