Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system performed a giant leap nearer completion on Tuesday 12 December, as four more Galileo satellites were launched into orbit by Ariane 5.
Liftoff from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana took place at 18:36 UTC (19:36 CET, 15:36 local time), carrying Galileo satellites 19–22. Separation of the upper stage occurred about nine minutes after liftoff, followed by the first firing of the upper stage. The upper stage – carrying four 715-kg Galileo satellites – flew in ballistic configuration for three hours and eight minutes, after which a second upper stage firing placed it into circular separation orbit. Once stabilised at 3h 35 min after liftoff, the Galileo dispenser released the first two satellites, followed by the second pair 20 minutes later.
At orbital injection the launcher attained an altitude of 22 925 km, approximately 300 km below the Galileo satellites’ operational altitude. The four satellites manoeuvred themselves up to this height, leaving the passivated upper stage safely in a ‘graveyard orbit’.
Video credit: ESA