This morning (October 21, 2011), at 10:30 Greenwich Mean Time (5:30am Central Daylight Time), a Soyuz rocket lifted off from a brand new launch pad in the South American jungle with two European navigation satellites, making history on its first mission from Guiana Space Center. Russia and Europe opened the new Soyuz launch site to allow the Russian rocket to better compete for commercial and European space missions. By launching close to the equator in French Guiana, the Soyuz rocket gets a boost in performance.
In 1998, the European Space Agency (ESA) first began studying the possibility of Soyuz launches from the Guiana Space Center. ESA officially started this program in 2004, with construction work in French Guiana beginning in 2005 and the first Russian components arriving three years later, in 2008.
This launch, designated VS01 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering scheme, will deploy two Galileo satellites. Galileo is Europe’s program for a global navigation satellite system to provide highly accurate, global positioning services, and will be interoperable with the U.S. Global Positioning System and Russia’s Glonass network.
The newspaper El Mundo has an informative animation on the launch vehicle and Galileo satellite (in Spanish).