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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 July, 2004, 01:35 GMT 02:35 UK
Major satellite lift for Ariane
Ariane 5, AP
This was the 19th flight for the Ariane 5 and the first since March
Europe's Ariane 5 rocket has lifted off after three earlier delays to put the largest commercial telecommunications satellite in orbit.

The launch went ahead successfully at 0044GMT on Sunday from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.

The six-tonne Canadian-owned Anik F2 satellite will deliver broadband internet access and other digital services to North America.

The spacecraft has a solar array that will span 48m once deployed in orbit.

"This satellite has a new frequency band that can offer high-speed internet anywhere in Canada," Telesat vice president Roger Tinley told the Reuters news agency.

"We have many regions in Canada that don't have high-speed internet access, particularly in the north and outside urban areas. With this satellite we hope to cover all of Canada including the most isolated areas," he said.

One of the beneficiaries will be the Canadian telemedicine project Telecare, a pilot project that received European Space Agency funding under its Telecom Programme.

This pilot project uses two-way satellite networks to enable nurses to "visit" patients who live in remote areas.

The launch had originally been planned for Monday, but a technical problem forced a three-day delay. Poor weather and another "anomaly" caused two more 24-hour postponements.

This was the 19th flight for the Ariane 5 and the first since March.

Anik F2, Arianespace
Anik F2 will provide broadband internet across North America
The vehicle is currently the only launch system offered directly by Arianespace, now that its Ariane 4 series has been retired.

However, contracts have been signed that will see a launch pad built at Kourou to enable Arianespace to offer Russian Soyuz rockets to customers.

A smaller rocket system for lighter payloads called Vega is also in development.

The Ariane 5 has been winning back market confidence after suffering a major failure in December 2002, when a heavy-lift version of the rocket veered off course and auto-destructed four minutes into its flight.

Despite the setback and the grounding of the Ariane 5 for much of 2003, Arianespace continues to be the dominant player in the world's commercial satellite launch market.

In May, Arianespace and EADS-Space Transportation signed a contract which will see the construction of 30 Ariane 5 launch vehicles. The value of the order is about 3bn euros (2bn).

Arianespace says it will attempt another launch of its "10-tonne" Ariane 5-ECA (the rocket variant that failed back in 2002) in October.

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