First Galileo satellites to be launch later this week
The rocket, dubbed Soyuz STK, will launch from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) base in Kourou, French Guiana, after a deal was struck between Russia and the ESA in 2003, bringing much-needed funds to Russia’s space industry.Notably, this is the first time that a Soyuz rocket has been deployed outside of Russia’s bases.
In exchange for this deal, Arianespace, which markets the European Space Agency’s rockets for satellite launches, received a medium-range vehicle to complement its heavy Ariane 5, and its planned lightweight Vega. “I have been pursuing this project for more than a decade.Now we really are in the home stretch,” Arianespace boss Jean-Yves Le Gall said. “Arianespace will [soon] be the only operator in the world that will be able to launch any satellite, from the smallest to the biggest, and place it any orbit,” he said.
A site to launch the Soyuz rocket has been specifically built 12 km from the Ariane launchpad. The infrastructure at this site includes a 45m-tall gantry, and can be adapted for human spaceflight, if need be.
A spin-off of the Soyuz 2, the Soyuz STK will use the Fregat upper stage and the ST nose cone, along with several minor modifications to make it compatible with ESA equipment.
The first two Galileo satellites have been named Natalia and Thijs, after a nine-year-old Bulgarian girl and an 11-year-old Belgian boy, who won a drawing competition among European youngsters.
The Galileo global navigation satellite system is expected to be start initial service around 2014, and be completed by 2019. It is intended to provide a high-accuracy positioning system upon which European nations can rely, independently from the Russian GLONASS and US GPS systems which can be disabled for commercial users in times of war or conflict.