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ESA: ‘Fantastic Four’ Galileo Satellites Ready to Take Off

Nov 17, 2016 04:53 AM EST
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The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing for a complex quadruple launch, where an Arian 5 rocket will for the first time fly four Galileo navigation satellites into orbit.

The so-called "Fantastic Four" is scheduled for take-off at 13:06 GMT (14:06 CET, 10:06 local time) on Thursday, Nov. 17 from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. According to ESA, the mission will involve one of its most complex space deliveries ever.

"At the time that the four satellites separate two by two, we'll have two shifts of the mission team working in the control room at the CNES center in Toulouse, France, each shift managing two satellites - so it will be an intense period," Liviu Stefanov, co-flight director at ESA, said in the same statement.

The flight will be the eighth Galileo launch, but Thursday's takeoff will be different from the earlier launches. "What's different this time is managing four satellites, sometimes in sequence and sometimes in parallel. We have concentrated a lot of effort on planning and training for the first few hours in space," Hélène Cottet, lead flight director from France's CNES space agency, which is working closely with ESA for the mission, said in a statement.

The core stage is expected to separate about nine minutes after liftoff, followed by the first upper stage firing for 10 minutes, ESA said in a statement. The spacecraft will then coast for three hours and eight minutes, and then a second upper stage firing will place it into a circular orbit. In that position, Ariane 5's new payload dispenser will release the quadruple satellites - the first two will be released first followed by the second pair 20 minutes after.

The launcher will have to deploy the satellites at an altitude of 22,925 km, about 300 km below the satellites' operational altitude. This will leave the Ariane's EPS upper stage in a stable "graveyard orbit," while the four satellites maneuver themselves up to their final set height.

The launch can be viewed via live broadcast at the ESA website.

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