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First two Galileo satellites launched from Kourou spaceport

The first two satellites for the Galileo satellite navigation system were launched successfully from the EU’s French Guiana spaceport at 12.30 Brussels time on 21 October.

The satellites were carried into space on board a Russian-built Soyuz rocket. The first two satellites will form the basis of a 30-piece satellite navigation system built by the EU, which is supposed to provide an alternative service to the US GPS system.

The satellites were originally scheduled to be launched on 20 October, but the lift-off had to be aborted after engineers detected irregularities in the rocket fuelling system. However, all went well on the second attempt, and Galileo travelled 700km high into space in the first 15 minutes after the launch.

Galileo has been under construction since 2005, and all satellites are being supplied by European companies. The collaboration with Russia on launching the satellites is a first, as Russia has never before used the EU spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, for Soyuz rocket launches. The European Space Agency said that the success of the launch meant that Europe has gained another trusted partner for future rocket launches.

Galileo is funded by the EU and administered by the European Space Agency and the European Commission’s directorate general for industry. The system is expected to cost around €20 billion euros to launch and maintain until its completion in 2019, and initial service is expected to be ready by 2014.

The system was originally conceived to be a civil alternative to the US GPS system, which is military-based and can be withdrawn by the US government if it is needed for military purposes. However, Galileo has come under fire by the European Parliament this year after it emerged that the programme’s Public Regulated Service channel is available for military use, as specified in the Commission’s business plan.

Galileo has also been subject to budget increases, which are estimated at about €1.4 billion more than originally planned for the projects implementation phase 2014-2019. However, a Commission spokesman told Research Europe Today had enough money to provide at least a basic service with 24 satellites by 2014.