Major space company Arianespace will conduct a series of modifications on its renowned Ariane 5 heavy-lift delivery system, in order to accommodate the launch of four Galileo satellites simultaneously. The decision is part of a new agreement it signed with the European Space Agency.
At the same meeting – which took place at the European Commission's center in London, the UK, on February 2 – ESA also awarded new contracts for 8 additional Galileo spacecraft to a consortium of European companies. Galileo is Europe's satellite navigation system, developed in response to the GPS.
European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani and UK Universities and Science Minister David Willetts MP participated at the meeting. The space agency chose to award the 8 new contracts to the same group of companies that plan to build the first 14 Galileo satellites.
The consortium is led by Bremen, Germany-based OHB System AG, which is the prime contractor, and Guildford, UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), its partner. This group was awarded the previous contracts in January 2010.
SSTL will be in charge of constructing and testing the navigation payloads that will go on the future Galileo satellites. OHB will have to develop and test the satellites' platforms, and also conduct overall integration of all components.
Two of four Galileo In-Orbit Validation (IOV) satellites – the first spacecraft in the new constellation – were already launched, on October 21, 2011. They took off from the Kourou Spaceport, in French Guiana, South America, aboard a Russian-built Soyuz rocket.
After all four IOV vehicles are launched, ESA will begin to deploy the Full Operational Capability (FOC) satellites, which are currently being built by OHB and SSTL. This is where Arianespace and its rockets also come in.
The Ariane 5 ES variant – the most powerful version of the delivery system – is to be modified under the new contract, receive significant changes and undergo re-qualification. At this point, it is used to deploy the ESA ATV resupply cargo ship to the International Space Station.
Deploying satellites would require it to deploy its cargo at altitudes of up to 23,222 kilometers (14,430 miles). A new dispenser is absolutely essential for this purpose, so the French company accepted to start developing a new version of the rocket, called Ariane 5 ES Galileo.