KOUROU, French Guiana, Oct 21, 2011 (AFP) - A Soyuz rocket lifted off on Friday on its maiden flight from Europe's space base here, carrying the first two satellites in the Galileo geopositioning system, an AFP reporter saw.
The launch -- the first by the veteran rocket beyond Russia's historic bases at Plesetsk and Baikonur -- is part of a commercial deal struck in 2003 to extend the range of Arianespace, which markets services from the European Space Agency (ESA) base in Kourou.
The 5.4-billion-euro (7.2-billion-dollar) Galileo project is designed to comprise 27 operational satellites and three spares by its completion in 2020.
It should give geopositioning accuracy to within a metre (3.25 feet), whereas the US Global Positioning System (GPS) is currently accurate to between three and eight metres (10 and 26 feet), according to official websites.
After a nine-minute flight through Earth's atmosphere, the Soyuz's final stage, the Fregat, was to propel the satellites on a three-hour flight toward their orbital slot.