updated 10/20/2006 8:09:41 AM ET 2006-10-20T12:09:41

A Russian booster rocket on Thursday successfully launched a European Space Agency weather satellite after a series of delays.

The MetOp satellite was launched atop a Soyuz 2 booster from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and reached a designated orbit, said Russian Federal Space Agency spokesman Igor Panarin.

"It was a perfect launch and the European Space Agency experts have established stable communications with the satellite," Panarin told The Associated Press.

The 8,800-pound satellite is intended to be the first in a series of three developed under a joint undertaking between ESA and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

ESA spokesman Bernhard von Weyhe said that once in orbit, the satellite successfully deployed its solar panels. This was a critical step that ensures it will have electrical power — a relief for officials at the ground control center in Darmstadt, Germany.

"The power is on, the satellite is fully alive and stable," von Weyhe said.  "You can say there is great joy and relief in the control room, and there was a moment of applause when we were able to orient the panels."

ESA will operate the satellite for the next three days, adjusting its orbit, before turning it over to Eumetsat, the European agency in charge of the weather satellite program.

The probe also is part of a new venture between the ESA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that will allow the two agencies' satellites to collect more data over a wider area.

The launch, originally expected on Tuesday, was postponed by one day due to a technical problem with the rocket, and then put off by one more day because of high winds that made the liftoff too risky.

The delays cost ESA some $250,000 per day, with some 200 experts in Baikonur and at observatories and other facilities around the world having to remain on alert. The costs are relatively small compared with the $3 billion cost of the entire three-satellite program.

The MetOp was originally scheduled to be sent into orbit in July but problems arose with the rocket's ground support system at the Baikonur facility and the launch was scrubbed just minutes before liftoff.

While Russia's manned space program is seen as a success — Russian rockets consistently and reliably shuttle crews and cargo up to the international space station — its efforts to expand into lucrative commercial satellite launches have seen several embarrassing failures.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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