Europe this morning took another step towards the planned 2010 deployment of its €3.4bn Galileo satnav system when the Giove-A satellite blasted off atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.
The 600kg Giove-A "demonstrator" is designed to "trial technologies for future Galileo satellites", the BBC reports. It will also "transmit sat-nav signals to claim frequencies for Galileo"* and test in-orbit performance of two rubidium atomic clocks.
Giove-A, built by Guildford-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), is the pathfinder for the eventual 30 satellites which will make up the Galileo system - a joint EU/European Space Agency project. It was put together in just three years, an achievement which prompted SSTL's projects director, John Paffett, to tell the Beeb: "Three years ago I did a sketch of what I thought we could do. To go from that sketch to what we have now is amazing. It's not over yet - there's a lot of hard work to go ahead - but it's definitely a monumental occasion." ®
*To claim the frequencies, a satnav signal "of the correct structure" must be broadcast and received on Earth before June 2006. SSTL reckons it can achieve this within two weeks.