| KOUROU, French Guiana
KOUROU, French Guiana Oct 12 A Russian-made
Soyuz rocket blasted off from French Guiana on Friday and placed
in orbit two satellites for Europe's Galileo global position
system, space officials said.
It was the third time that Soyuz, which first flew in 1966
and traces its roots back even further to the earliest Cold War
intercontinental ballistic missiles, had been launched from
outside its former Soviet bases.
The rocket lifted off at 3.15 p.m. (1815 GMT) from a launch
pad at Europe's space base near Kourou, French Guiana on the
northeast coast of South America.
After a nearly four-hour flight the satellites separated
from the rocket, bringing to four the number of Galileo
satellites now in orbit. Two other satellites for the project
were launched from Guiana last year, also aboard a Soyuz rocket.
Galileo, once fully operational later this decade, aims to
give Europeans autonomy from the U.S. government-controlled
Global Positioning System (GPS) and other systems created by
Russia and China.
Positioning satellites provide accurate navigation to ships,
aircraft, trucks and private cars. They are also used
extensively by the military, notably to target guided missiles.
Galileo, named after the visionary 17th-century Italian
scientist Galileo Galilei, is billed by European Space Agency
(ESA) as the means "to free Europe of dependence on America's
Global Positioning System".
Latest estimates put the price tag for Galileo at over 20
billion euros for what is planned to be a 30-satellite
constellation, to be fully operational by 2020.
European aerospace giant EADS is the prime
contractor with major subcontracting by Thales Alenia Space, a
joint venture company 67 percent held by France's Thales
and Italy's Finmeccanica with a 33 percent
Included are the costs of the satellites, launches by Soyuz
or Ariane-5 rockets in Guiana and annual operating costs of 800
With many ESA member states in economic difficulties,
questions have grown over the necessity of a system whose
services are already assured by the U.S. GPS constellation.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Miles; editing by Andrew