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The Two-Way
11:32 am
Fri October 21, 2011

Europe Sends Satellites Into Orbit Using Russian Rockets

A Russian Soyuz rocket blasted off from French Guiana this morning. It was the first time one of them has blasted off outside its old Soviet Union bases.

It also marked a more important first: The rocket was carrying the first piece of Europe's Galileo global positioning system, which aims to provide more accurate information than the United States' GPS system.

The BBC reports:

The two Galileo satellites were launched by a Russian Soyuz rocket from its new base in French Guiana at 07:30 local time (10:30 GMT; 11:30 BST). The European Commission (EC) is investing billions of euros in its own version of the American GPS system.

It expects Galileo to bring significant returns to EU nations in the form of new businesses that can exploit precise space-borne timing and location data. The Soyuz mission was a long one - it took three hours and 49 minutes to get the satellite pair into their correct orbit 23,222km above the Earth.

"Galileo is at the heart of our new industrial policy," EC Vice-President Antonio Tajani said once the separation confirmation had come through. "We must commit very strongly to Galileo. We need this; this not entertainment. This is necessary for the competitiveness of our European Union in the world."

The Guardian reports that these satellites are the first of 30 to be put into orbit. The AFP adds that it set to be completed in 2020 and will provide an accuracy to within 3.25 feet.

Here's video of the launch from The Guardian:

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.