The two Galileo Full Operational Capability (FOC) satellites were launched today from Kourou, French Guiana.

EU Galileo satellites

The two satellites are the first that the EU full owns and they will become part of a global satellite navigation system under European civilian control. They are set to join four satellites that are already in orbit.

“Four satellites are already in orbit and the system’s operation has been validated. The two additional satellites, based on a new design, are the first of a new phase, leading to the full deployment of the constellation,” European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Ferdinando Nelli Feroci said.

Soyuz to Ariane-5

The satellites were launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket but beginning next year the EU will be using French made rockets called the Ariane-5.

“Today’s launch of two new Galileo satellites from Kourou, in French Guiana, is another milestone in the history of the program,” said Feroci.

The launch was planned to occur last year but there were production concerns and delays with German-based OHB System the primary contractor for the FOCs. In total, 22 satellites were ordered by the EU from OHB and its partners.

“Difficulties had to be overcome. This may happen in large-scale programs. What matters is our collective capacity and determination to solve problems that may arise. And these capacity and determination have been proven,” Feroci explained.

Galileo satellites to provide services next year

The EU plans an additional launch later this year and another in 2015 in order for Galileo to begin offering initial services next year.

Feroci said “EU’s space programs are strategic for our technological and scientific competitiveness. This is why the EU has decided to invest 12 billion euro in space activities over the period 2014-2020.”

The week-long Launch and Early Operations Phase (LEOP) has already begun with the separation of the satellites from the upper stage of the rocket. Next, the satellites will need to be oriented before the satellites’ solar arrays are deployed and the platform is gradually activated.

That process will be carried out by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany in conjunction with the French space agency Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES).