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1ST LEAD: Europe's Galileo satellites lift off with Russian rocket
[October 21, 2011]

1ST LEAD: Europe's Galileo satellites lift off with Russian rocket

MOSCOW, Oct 21, 2011 (dpa - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Two navigation satellites for the European Space Agency's planned Galileo network blasted off on Friday from a launch pad in French Guiana.

The launch of the Russian Soyuz rocket took place at 1030 GMT and appeared to proceed normally, mission controllers said according to Russian news agency Interfax.

The mission had originally been planned for Thursday, but a leaky fuel valve forced a 24-hour mission delay.

A 3-hour 49-minute flight would be required to place the two satellites in orbit some 23.2 kilometres above Earth, according to a statement from Arianespace, the mission contractor.

The companies EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space manufactured the satellites on behalf of the European Space Agency. The satellites should remain operational for 12 years.

The two satellites were to become the third and fourth of a planned 30-satellite constellation that will provide a European world navigation network similar to the GPS system developed by the US or Russia's GLONASS system.

The mission from the Kourou Spaceport was the first-ever launch of a Russian Soyuz rocket from French Guiana. The first two Galilo satellites also flew aboard a Soyuz, launched from Kazakhstan's Baikonur space centre in 2008.

Additional Galileo launches are planned from both French Guiana and Kazakhstan, with the next mission set for August 2012, Interfax said.

The apparent success of the launch gave a badly-needed vote of confidence to Russia's national space agency, which had faced questions about the reliability of Soyuz rockets after one carrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) crashed in August.

A workhorse of Russia's space fleet, the Soyuz is the only rocket capable of delivering crew to the ISS. Russia's national space agency intended the French Guiana launch of the Galileo satellites in part as a test to confirm the rocket's reliability for manned missions.

NASA officials have said the ISS might have to be evacuated, if a planned November Soyuz mission to replace crew members fails to take place.

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