A European Ariane rocket has been launched from Kourou, French Guiana carrying two satellites into orbit, including the first pan-African communications satellite.
The Ariane 5 GS rocket took off at 21.42 GMT on Friday, the sixth successful Ariane launch this year, operator Arianespace said from Kourou. Half an hour later, the pan-African television satellite RASCOM-QAF1 and the US satellite Horizons-2 were released into orbit.
The launch had been delayed one day due to a technical problem.
The Ariane 5 is the only commercial rocket that can put two satellites into orbit at the same time. From 2009 on, eight launches are planned per year.
The long-awaited high point for the Ariane 5 launch programme comes in the first quarter of 2008, when it is to launch the ATV, the Automated Transfer Vehicle, to the International Space Station.
The ATV is the first space vehicle to be built and launched by Europe that can carry out docking manoeuvres with a space station. It will attach to the Russian module at the ISS, and will not only help supply the astronauts on board the ISS, but also be able to correct the ISS trajectory as necessary.
The pan-African satellite launched Friday was built by Thales Alenia Space in Europe and is to serve Africa for 15 years with telephone, internet and television service.
The US satellite, built by Orbital Sciences, is to provide similar services to Intelsat and Japan's JSAT in North America and the Caribbean.