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Europe launches two more Galileo navigation satellites

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The Soyuz rocket lifts off with a pair of Galileo navigation satellites from French Guiana on May 24, 2016. An Arianespace photo

KOUROU, FRENCH GUIANA (BNS): Europe inched a step closer towards operationalising its own satellite navigation system by successfully orbiting two more satellites for the Galileo constellation.

The 13th and 14th satellites of the series were launched by a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana at 5:48 am local time (08:48 GMT) Tuesday, European rocket firm Arianespace which conducted the mission, said.

The twin Galileos were deployed into orbit close to 23,522 km altitude, at 3 hours and 48 minutes after lift-off, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced.

The coming days will see a careful sequence of orbital fine-tuning to bring them to their final working orbit, followed by a testing phase so that they can join the working constellation later this year, it said.

"Today's textbook launch has added two more satellites to what has become Europe's largest satellite constellation," commented Jan Woerner, Director General of ESA.

"Today's launch brings Europe's Galileo constellation halfway to completion, in terms of numbers," remarked Paul Verhoef, ESA's Director of the Galileo Programme and Navigation-related Activities.

The multi-billion-euro satellite navigation and search and rescue system will ultimately consist of 30 orbiters, and is expected to become fully operational by 2020.

Tuesday's launch was also the Galileo's last flight by the Russian Soyuz rocket this year.

Before the end of 2016, Arianespace will launch four more Galileo satellites, using an Ariane 5 ES launch vehicle, enabling the system to offer its initial services.

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