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IOVE-A, ESA’s prototype navigation satellite, remains operational after six years in space. Its flight paved the way for Europe’s Galileo satellites, the first two of which joined GIOVE-A in medium-Earth orbit on 21 October this year. The first ‘Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element’, GIOVE-A, was launched on 28 December 2005 by a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, carrying a prototype rubidium atomic clock destined for the Galileo constellation.

China released a long-awaited “test version” interface control document (ICD) for its Compass (BeiDou-2) GNSS system today (December 27, 2011). The 11-page publication covers its open B1 civil signal centered at 1561.098 MHz. An English-language version of the document — the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System Signal In Space Interface Control Document (Test Version) — is available on the Compass website here.

The first laser ranging of Europe's new Galileo navigation satellites has been achieved from Concepción in Chile. Laser contact with the satellites at an altitude of 23 230 km has provided distance measurements with subcentimetre accuracy. The Transportable Integrated Geodetic Observatory, TIGO, in Concepción, performed the world's first laser ranging to the first Galileo satellite on 27 November at 02:45 GMT, and to the second satellite two days later at 10:05 GMT, using a near-infrared laser beam.

More European aircraft will benefit from air traffic control guidance coming from above as use of the EGNOS Safety-of-Life signal for aviation is set to extend from France and Switzerland to the UK and Germany.

Europe’s first Galileo satellite appears in blooming health, transmitting test signals received by ESA’s ground station in Redu, Belgium across the whole of its assigned radio spectrum. The first two Galileo satellites were launched by Soyuz from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 21 October. They are currently in the midst of a rigorous campaign to check that their highly sophisticated navigation payloads are operating as planned, unaffected by the strains of launch.