Brussels: A Russian rocket launched the first two satellites of the European Union's Galileo navigation system on Friday as part of a programme billed as a competitor to the American GPS network. Also, the launch of the Soyuz from French Guiana, on the northern coast of South America, marks a first launch of a Russian rocket outside the former Soviet Union.
''It is a double-page spread in spatial history, European and Russian,'' said Laurent Wauquiez, France's higher education minister and former deputy minister for European affairs. ''It is without doubt one of the most beautiful stories of cooperation... This gives us strength and an extraordinary competitive advantage in the spatial domain.''
The rocket is expected to place into orbit the Galileo IOV-1 PFM and FM2 satellites during a nearly four-hour mission. The two satellites will be released in opposite directions.
''The first part of this mission went well,'' Jean-Yves Le Gall, chairman and CEO of Arianespace, the commercial arm of the European Space Agency, said in a brief statement to officials before returning to the control room.
So far, the Galileo system has become a symbol of EU infighting, inefficiency and delay, but is now expected to provide worthwhile competition to the American GPS system, which is the universal consumer standard in satellite navigation.
The EU's Galileo is billed as a system that is more precise and more reliable than GPS, while controlled by civil authorities, unlike the American system which is under military control.