Europe's Ariane 5 super-rocket lifted off Saturday from Kourou, French Guiana and placed into orbit two satellites more than two years after the first version of the launcher failed spectacularly.
Ariane 5 can carry up to 10 tons
Arianespace said from its headquarters outside Paris that the mammoth rocket, with a capacity to place up to 10 tons of payload into orbit, took off at 21:03 p.m. GMT more than one hour into the start of the launch window.
The Ariane 5 ECA placed into geostationary orbit the 3.6-ton XTAR-EUR satellite, due to provide government and military communications for the United States and Spain in a footprint ranging from eastern Brazil to Singapore.
It also released a small Dutch satellite, Sloshsat, weighing 127 kilograms (279 pounds) to test the dynamics of fluids in orbit. The head of Arianespace, Jean-Yves Le Gall, described it as "an exceptional moment," adding that "those who believed in Ariane 5 '10 tons' were right."
Ariane 5 rocket lifts off in Kourou, French Guiana on Saturday
The first version of the Ariane 5 ECA failed catastrophically on its maiden flight in December 2002. It veered off course after liftoff and had to be blown up over the Atlantic, destroying its half-billion-dollar satellite cargo.
A painstaking inquiry into the 2002 disaster pinned the blame on a cooling system in the ECA's Vulcain-2 motor, an upgraded version of the Vulcain-1 engine that powers the standard 6.8-tonne Ariane 5.
A lucrative market
Backed by pledges of €550 million ($715 million) from the European Space Agency's (ESA) stakeholder nations, a program was initiated to fix the problem.
More than €500 million and Europe's bid to rival the United States and Russia in the lucrative
market for satellite launches was riding on the latest rocket.
The European aeronautics and space giant EADS has a 27.03-percent stake in Arianespace, which operates and markets the Ariane range of launchers designed by the ESA.
The commercial interest in the ECA is productivity. A launch costs about €150 million, so if two or three satellites can be launched in one go, the costs per satellite are far cheaper than with a single payload.