An Ariane 5 rocket blasted off from French Guiana on Friday, putting telecommunications satellites into orbit for coverage of Africa and North America.
It was the sixth and final Ariane launch of the year.
The rocket was launched from Europe’s space base in Kourou, on the northeast coast of South America, at 6.41 p.m. (4:41 p.m. ET), space officials said.
Twenty-seven minutes after liftoff, the rocket put the RASCOM-QAF1 satellite into a preliminary orbit. The satellite is designed to provide telecommunications, direct TV broadcasts and Internet access services throughout Africa for 15 years.
The spacecraft was built by Thales Alenia Space for the Regional African Satellite Communication Organization, or RASCOM.
RASCOM's chief executive, Faraj Elamari, said the satellite would "contribute to bridging the digital divide within Africa and between Africa and the rest of the world.”
“This will result in savings of several hundreds of million of dollars now paid annually to operators outside of Africa,” he said.
Six minutes after the first satellite was deployed, the rocket released the Horizons 2 spacecraft for Washington-based operator Intelsat and JSAT International. This satellite, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., will provide occasional-use video and Internet-based content distribution for the United States and parts of Canada and the Caribbean.
In a statement, Jean-Yves Le Gall, the chairman and chief executive officer of Europe's Arianespace launch consortium, hailed the year's final launch and said the pace would continue in 2008. "After that, we will reach the pace of seven to eight Ariane 5 launches annually, along with two to four Soyuz flights and two missions with Vega per year."
This report includes information from Reuters and msnbc.com.