Industry officials have said testing of two Galileo satellites have been delayed, with the launch now probably taking place at the earliest around mid-2014.
However, the European Commission (EC), the constellation's owner, remains adamant the system will be running by late 2014. The two delayed satellites, originally scheduled for launch by the end of 2013, were supposed to form a backbone for the constellation to be able to demonstrate its positioning, navigation and timing services.
According to Space News, the recent delay seems to be a consequence of several factors. First, two payloads were delivered late by British firm Surrey Satellite Technology to the prime contractor OHB, who further ran into issues with the payload and the platform, increasing the delay.
Instead of delivering the two satellites for testing to the European Space Agency (ESA) in May, as scheduled, OHB only managed to ship the spacecraft to ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands in August.
At this stage ESTEC’s thermal vacuum chamber designed to test satellites in extreme space-like conditions was not immediately available to proceed with the work, further delaying the whole process.
According to Space News, the six-week tests of the first of the two satellites in ESTEC’s thermal vacuum chamber will commence in in early October. If no problems in the system are revealed the second spacecraft could only go through a shorter thermal vacuum test.
It has been suggested it is highly unlikely the two satellites will be cleared by ESA for transport to the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, in time to be launched by the end of 2013.
“At this point a late spring launch looks OK, but making forecasts before thermal vacuum tests is difficult,” said a source familiar with the progress of the work.
As other customers are already queuing to launch their payloads from Kourou in 2014 aboard the Soyuz rocket, the delayed Galileo satellites are likely to have to wait.
Earlier this month, the European Space Agency has reassured the European Commission Galileo’s first services will be publicly available by the end of 2014, a pledge that now might be difficult to fulfil.
The constellation is expected to be fully deployed by 2020, however, the schedule might eventually be further revised.