According to information released by ESA, 9 of the clocks on board the 18 satellites of the European Galileo navigation system failed, information provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), which also ensured that the operation of the project, the European version of GPS, was not affected.
The Agency released this information this Wednesday, 18 January. The European Space Agency (ESA) also ensured that the project’s operability, the European version of the GPS, was not affected, according to ESA Director-General Jan Woerner, explaining that 6 hydrogen-passive maser Other 3 ‘standard’ rubidium atomic frequencies, whose errors are being investigated at the moment.
Each of these satellites is equipped with 2 passive hydrogen maser clocks – one that serves as the main reference for generating navigation signals and the other used as a reserve – and with 2 other rubidium atomic frequencies that support the First in case of failures, so that there is always an operational one. “It’s a sensitive issue,” admitted Woerner, who also stressed the importance of these watches for the proper functioning of the system, adding that he does not know yet whether it will be possible to recover them.
The Director-General of ESA also stressed that, although the operability of the Galileo system has not been called into question, “if these failures begin to be systematic, care must be taken”. ESA said that it is considering whether it cancels the placement of new satellites into orbit until it has an explanation for the problem or maintains the launches, which means that more active clocks are placed on the satellites as a backup.
ESA explains on its website that “conceptually” Galileo users determine their position by measuring the time it takes for satellite radio waves to arrive, so the accuracy of this measurement is important. Woerner also admitted that he did not know the causes of the fault, but insisted that the system of substitutes allowed that all the satellites are still in operation.
At present, with 18 satellites, all of which are already in orbit, Galileo is expected to have a “constellation” of 30 satellites by the year 2020. The remaining 12 are expected to be launched in the coming years and only then will the European navigation system – planned in 2001 to end dependence on the North American GPS system (military) – should reach its full operational capability.
Apart from Galileo and GPS, global satellite navigation also includes the Russian Glonass system and Chinese Beidou. But when it emerged in 2011, Galileo boasted of being the most accurate and safest on the market, it had a swarm of 30 satellites in operation by 2020, but for now those plans may be compromised.