December 17, 2011 / 4:14 AM / 8 years ago

France launches spy satellites aboard Russian rocket

KOUROU, French Guiana (Reuters) - The second Russian-built Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana blasted off late on Friday carrying six military spy satellites, space officials said.

The rocket blasted off at 11.03 p.m. (0203 GMT Saturday) from a launch pad at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) launch centre near Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America.

About one hour after launch, five of the satellites separated from the rocket.

The first was Pleiades, a one-tonne observation satellite to be used extensively by the French defense ministry.

Several minutes later, the rocket released four ELISA (Electronic Intelligence by Satellite) demonstrator satellites to test space-based mapping of radar transmitters globally for France’s Defense Procurement Agency (DGA).

A sixth satellite, for Chile’s armed forces, is scheduled for separation at 0639 GMT.

The satellites will also have civilian applications.

The launch was controlled by France’s Arianespace rocket launch company.

This was the second time that a Soyuz, which first flew in 1966 and traces its roots back even further to the earliest Cold War intercontinental ballistic missiles, was launched from outside its former Soviet bases.

The first French Guiana-launched Soyuz rocket orbited the first two of Europe’s Galileo global positioning satellite constellation last October.

Additional reporting by Alexander Miles, editing by Tim Pearce

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