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Saturday, February 27, 1999 Published at 06:44 GMT


Ariane blasts off successfully

The Ariane mission completed a textbook take-off

A European Ariane rocket has put two communication satellites in orbit after a textbook launch.

The 116th Ariane rocket lifted off from the European Space Agency launch centre in Kourou, French Guyana, on Friday at 1944 local time (2244 GMT).

The rocket lit up the equatorial night sky, but was only visible from the ground for 30 seconds as it quickly disappeared into thick clouds.

Mission control officials said the Arabsat 3A and Skynet 4E satellites separated from the rocket after 20 and 25 minutes respectively.

Arabsat will provide television broadcasting and telephone communications to the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe.

Over the next few days it will move into a geostationary orbit 36,000km (22,500 miles) above the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Skynet is a British armed forces strategic and tactical communications satellite with an expected seven-year lifespan.

It will also be placed in a geostationary orbit, over the Gulf of Guinea.

The launch was the first of 13 planned Ariane missions this year and the 43rd consecutive successful launch of an Ariane-4 rocket.

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