Europe's dependence on the United States' Global Positioning System is coming to an end, with the launch this Friday of the first two satellites of the European Galileo geopositioning network.
The satellites launched at 10.30 GMT from the European Space Agency spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on board a Russian rocket.
Once complete the network will comprise 30 satellites designed to provide Europe with an independent global satellite navigation system.
The Galileo system is intended to be much more accurate than its older American cousin.
By 2015, 18 satellites should be in place, followed by the remaining 12 in 2020.
The project has been beset by delays and cost overruns, having first been agreed in 1999 with an expected budget of €1.8bn. The price tag has now reached €5bn.
The launch was the first time that Russia’s Soyuz rocket has taken off from European territory.
The two satellites launched today are named Thijs and Natalia, after children from Belgium and Bulgaria who won drawing competitions.
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