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Europe's heavy lifting rocket, Ariane 5 ECA, has successfully blasted off from French Guiana with two telecoms satellites on board. It is only the launcher's third outing, after it was lost on its maiden voyage.

The American operator DirecTV's Spaceway 2 satellite masses over 6,000 kilograms, and is one of the largest telecoms satellites ever launched into geostationary orbit. It is designed to deliver high definition TV to cities in the US.

Ariane lifts off

Also on board was a Telkom 2 satellite, owned by the Indonesian operator Telekomunikasi Indonesia.

The rocket took off without a hitch at 23:46 GMT. Its upper stage cryogenic engine ran for just under 25 minutes, shutting off when the launcher, with its load of around 10,000kg, was travelling at 9.3km per second.

Minutes later, 27 minutes and 24 seconds after liftoff, the Spaceway 2 satellite separated from the launcher, followed by the Telkom 2 six minutes after that.

The Ariane 5-ECA rocket is a development of the standard Ariane 5 launcher which itself began commercial operation in 1999. The launch takes the number of successful Ariane 5 launches to 24, while Ariane Space, the company behind the rockets, can claim 168 launches across its Ariane fleet.

The rocket uses two solid boosters to get off the ground, a cryogenic main stage to get it into space and a final, upper stage, to put its payload into orbit, or into transfer orbits. In this case the satellites use their own engines to go from the geostationary transfer stage to their final orbits. ®

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