First Soyuz launch from French Guiana

Washington DC
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The first two Galileo navigation satellites have successfully taken orbit after the 21 October launch. The satellites, launched from Kourou in French Guiana by a Russian Soyuz rocket, are vanguards of a planned 30-strong constellation, meant to lessen European dependence on GPS.

The 21 October launch marks the first Soyuz launch from Kourou.

Kourou is the launch site of the heavier Ariane V rocket. Launching Soyuz from Kourou allows European agencies to launch payloads too sensitive to send to Kazakhstan and too light to require Ariane V performance. The site's placement is closer to the equator than Baikonur in Kazakhstan, allowing Soyuz to lift heavier loads by taking advantage of the Earth's rotation.

Fourteen Soyuz launches are booked from Kourou, according to Arianespace, which markets Soyuz to Europe. Payloads include sensitive military satellites.

Soyuz has made more than 1,700 launches from only two sites: Baikonur in Kazakhstan, and Plesetsk in Russia. The next Soyuz launch from Kourou is scheduled for December.

The Ariane V and Soyuz will soon be joined by Vega, a new European rocket built for light payloads. The first Vega launch is tentatively scheduled for early 2012.