Europe launches first Galileo satellites since orbit error

FRANKFURT (REUTERS) - The European Union successfully has launched two navigation satellites into Earth's orbit late, restarting a flagship project after a botched deployment in August that cost millions of euros to fix.

The Galileo satellites, which blasted off from Europe's space port in French Guiana aboard a Soyuz rocket on Friday, will be part of the EU's alternative to the United States Global Positioning System, widely known as GPS.

The multi-billion-euro project suffered a setback in August, when two satellites were put into the wrong orbit, adding to previous problems with delays and financing and questions about whether Europe really needs a rival navigation system.

It took months and numerous complicated manoeuvres to nudge the two satellites into more viable orbits.

The two satellites launched on Friday reached their intended orbit close to 23,500 kms above the earth about 3 hours and 48 minutes after launch, the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement on Saturday.

"The deployment of the Galileo constellation is restarting with this successful launch," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

The launch brings the number of Galileo satellites - each weighing about 700 kgs, equipped with antennae and sensors and powered by two 5-square-metre solar wings - in orbit to eight, of a planned total of 30.

The EU has approved a 7 billion-euro (S$10.44 billion) budget for Galileo and another navigation project through 2020. It says Galileo will strengthen Europe's position in a satellite-navigation market expected to be worth 237 billion euros in 2020.

Airbus Defence & Space led construction of the first four satellites, while Germany's OHB and Britain's SSTL are building the next 22.

Two further two-satellite launches are planned this year, making it possible to put the Galileo system into partial service next year. Full service is planned for 2020.

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