Western Europe's Ariane-4 rocket blasted off from its South American launch pad Monday on a much-delayed mission and put a Japanese telecommunications satellite and European weather monitor into orbit.
The rocket, the 11th consecutive successful launch for Arianespace, illuminated the sky for miles around as it left the launch pad at Kourou in French Guiana at 6:30 p.m. EST.It was carrying a Western European meteorological satellite and Japan's first commercial telecommunications satellite, due to be finally placed into geostationary orbit after a six-day delay caused by technical problems and a strike by local staff.
The Ariane-4, one of a new generation of European space rockets, ended its mission some 30 minutes later when it ejected the two satellites.
Space officials applauded and shook hands as the weather satellite MOP 1, estimated to have cost $45 million, and the Japanese JCSAT 1, worth a reported $75 million, disengaged.
Ariane-4 was originally due to take off last Tuesday but was delayed initially because of a strike by about 250 local technicians at the Kourou space base demanding pay parity with foreign workers.
Although the strike was called off after talks with management the launch was called off again just hours before takeoff Saturday when technicians noticed two disconnected plugs between the rocket and its launch tower.
Space officials will have to wait for several days to know whether the satellites have survived the launch intact and are functioning normally.