A heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket put two telecommunications satellites into orbit after a long-delayed launch from French Guiana late Saturday, space officials said.
The rocket blasted off from Europe's space base in Kourou, on the northeast coast of South America. Initially due to be launched on Feb. 21, the mission was delayed three times because of technical problems.
Billed by the Arianespace rocket launch company as a cost-effective launcher for double-satellite missions, the heavy-lift rocket is capable of launching payloads of up to 10 metric tons.
This adds more than 3 ton of launch capacity to the current "Generic" Ariane-5 in service since the mid-1990s.
Twenty-seven minutes after the launch, the rocket released into a preliminary orbit the SpainSat, a 3.7-ton satellite for Spain's Defense Ministry built in California by Space Systems/Loral.
"With SpainSat in orbit, space will be able to triple its secure (military) communications on Spanish territory and in international operations," Miguel-Angel Garcia Primo, SpainSat mission director, said after the launch.
Five minutes later, the rocket orbited Hot Bird 7A, a 4.1-ton satellite for Paris-based telecom operator Eutelsat.
Hot Bird will provide telephone, data and video transmissions across throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It was built by an industrial team led by Alcatel Alenia space..
Eutelsat officials said Hot Bird was one of the first satellites on the market broadcasting digital high-definition television.
On Thursday, French President Jacques Chirac, under fire from European Union officials for shielding French companies from foreign bidders, called for greater European cooperation on space projects.
European aerospace group EADS, prime contractor for the Arianespace rocket series, reported a sharper than expected 39 percent rise in its net profit on Wednesday.