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Esa buys new satellites but warns of ‘unsustainable’ space use

Image: European Space Agency

Next generation of Galileo satellites will fly far above “problematic” crowds in low Earth orbit

The European Space Agency has contracted two companies to make 12 new satellites for the EU’s Galileo navigation system, while also warning of “unsustainable” satellite congestion in other Earth orbits than those used by Galileo.

Esa announced on 28 May that it had signed contracts worth a total of €1.47 billion for the new Galileo satellites with the Italy and Germany-based aerospace companies Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space.

Its announcement came a day after Esa published its 2021 Space Environment Report, which carried warnings of unsustainable congestion in low Earth orbit—altitudes of up to 2000km.

“Behaviours in low-Earth orbit are not changing fast enough: more than half of operators flying at this important altitude make no attempt to sustainably dispose of their missions,” the agency said.

Esa, which is responsible for the design and construction of Galileo satellites on behalf of the European Commission, told Research Professional News that current and future craft in the Galileo constellation will orbit at around 23,000km, or medium Earth orbit.

“The MEO region, for the time being, is only sparsely used and the collision risk is several order of magnitudes lower compared to the heavily populated LEO region,” Esa’s space safety office and navigation directorate said.

The agency said it follows the latest international standards for the mitigation of space debris in all orbits.