The European Space Agency announced May 28 that it had signed contracts with Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence & Space for 12 second-generation Galileo navigation satellites.
Galileo is Europe’s civil global satellite navigation constellation providing “metre-scale accuracy” to more than 2 billion users around the world. The system is the continent’s answer to the United States GPS system, Russia’s GLONASS, and the Chinese BeiDou network.
The two contracts worth a combined €1.47 billion were signed by ESA on behalf of the European Commission. Delivery of the first Galileo Second Generation (G2) satellite is expected within the next four years.
According to a May 28 press release, Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence & Space will work on “two independent families of satellites.” It is currently unclear how the 12 satellites will be split over the two families and what major difference, if any, will distinguish them.
On a whole, the G2 satellites are designed to be a significant upgrade on their first-generation counterparts. In addition to improving the network’s accuracy to offer “decimetre-scale precision”, the G2 satellites will feature adaptable fully digital payloads, inter-satellite communication to allow for routine cross-checking, and electric propulsion.
Although much larger than the first-generation Galileo satellites, the inclusion of electric propulsion equips the satellites with the ability to independently raise their orbits allowing for the G2 satellites to be launched in pairs. This will drastically reduce launch costs and allow for the savings to be utilized to continue to grow the Galileo constellation.
The first operational Galileo satellite was launched in 2011 and has since been joined by an additional 25 satellites. The launch of a further 12 first-generation satellites is expected to begin later this year. This will bring the total number of Galileo satellites in orbit to 38 before the addition of the 12 G2 satellites.