The launch of an Ariane 2 rocket was judged a success as it lifted into orbita powerful television satellite that heralds a new era of French broadcasting.

The satellite lifted off without a hitch into clear skies late Thursday abovethe European Space Agency launch site on the northeastern edge of South America.It was the 13th successful launch in 13 months for Arianespace, responsible for the European Space Agency's commercial launches.

The satellite reached orbit about 16 minutes after takeoff and quickly separated from the rocket.

About 25 minutes after liftoff, the solar panels opened on the satellite. It was the stage that had most concerned technicians after the failure last year of the West German TV-SAT1 satellite.

For a reason that has yet to be determined, the panels failed to open on the West German satellite, a sister to the French satellite under the joint French-German agreement that was the origin of the satellite project in 1977.

The five-channel French satellite will beam television shows directly to the home. Previously, satellite signals were picked up by large dishes owned by cable companies and networks that relayed programming to viewers.