Guiana: Ariane 5 rocket lifted off from French Guiana on December 12, carrying four new navigation satellites into orbit for the European Space Agency (ESA).
The rocket took off from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou at 1:36 p.m. EST with the new Galileo navigation system satellites, which will join 18 existing ones in orbit.
The European Union is adding more members to its own satellite-navigation system, the Galileo constellation, which will function much like the United States’ Navstar GPS system.
The Galileo constellation will eventually comprise 24 satellites and six in-orbit spares, according to the ESA.
Ariane space has launched 22 of the system’s satellites atop Soyuz and Ariane 5 rockets, according to a statement the French company released prior to the launch.
All processes and checks were automatic from seven minutes before the launch until the final take off. 15 seconds after the launch the rocket vanished into the low clouds above the city of Kourou in French Guiana. After 2 minutes 20 seconds the two solid rocket boosters were jettisoned, followed shortly by the payload fairing at around 3 minutes and 44 seconds. And the main stage was dropped nine minutes into the flight. About 20 minutes after launch the last engine switched off and the satellites sailed toward their final altitude.
The satellites would separate approximately 4 hours after the liftoff, and they will eventually settle into Middle-earth orbit, 14,430 miles (23,222 km) above the planet, with an orbital inclination of 56 degrees to the equator. The European Union selected this orbit to provide better coverage of high latitudes, which aren’t covered well by GPS or GLONASS.
“Galileo navigation signals will provide good coverage even at latitudes up to 75 degrees north, which corresponds to Norway’s North Cape — the most northerly tip of Europe — and beyond,” ESA officials said about the program