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A tale of two satellites.

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The story of Galileo 5 and 6 and their journey to orbit...


Day started with a comprehensive tour of the Guiana Space Centre, with a number of welcome speeches from representatives of those involved in the launch. We have a whistle-stop tour of the launch facilities, including the Ariane5 rocket - which is quite simply enormous and I get neck ache from looking upwards from such a close position.

Upper composite matting on launcher. Credit: Copyright ESA - S. Corvaja, 2011
Upper composite matting on launcher. Credit: Copyright ESA - S. Corvaja, 2011

A drive by the Vega and Ariane5 launch pads are precursor to the main event, standing on the very edge of the Soyuz launch pad, a vast concrete canyon the other side of which is our rocket. It is big, but the proportions are more suited to this environment. It fits here, in its element.

Below me the concrete is blackened from the heat of previous launches. I am reminded of the August launch and instinctively cross mental fingers for a successful journey tonight.

A few hours go by impossibly quickly, and final launch preparations are underway. The sky is clear, visibility couldn't be better at the outside viewing site. 5km away stands our rocket, lit up like a Hollywood set, a small piece of light against the night sky. We all stand at the edge of the tarmac, taking photos and admiring the view. By our feet an endless line of leaf cutter ants travel back and forth with their loads, forming nature's own line for us not to cross, on their own gravity-defying journey.

The countdown starts, in French, and there is the stillness of expectation amongst our crowd. And then, with all the magnificence expected, our rocket's journey begins. A balloon of fire grows, the rocket's flight begins and then bang, the noise hits us. It is magnificent, a clear starlit sky illuminated by a ball of fire..

Launche in Europe's space port of VS12
Credit: ESA–Manuel Pedoussaut, 2015

It travels so fast, arcing its trajectory, soon becoming only another dot of light. There is a collective release of breath, so far so good.

Now we're off to the control centre to  witness the final separation. All is calm, people diligently working, all going to plan. And then we have it, confirmation that all is well, our satellites are free of the fregat and solar arrays deployed. A faultless performance.

Now for the celebrations, the congratulatory speeches, the thanks. There is visible release of tension, smiles everywhere, jubilation. An unforgettable night.


- Imogen Ormerod, Head of Galileo Policy. 

Credit: ESA–Pierre Carril, 2015
Credit: ESA–Pierre Carril, 2015



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