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Ariane 5 ECA Launches To New Record After Delays

Two New -- And Heavy -- Telecom Satellites Now In Orbit

After a rough start marred by several delays, Europe's most powerful rocket yet lifted off from Kourou in French Guiana Wednesday night, carrying two communications satellites weighing a combined 17,500 lbs into orbit -- a new world record.

"More than 8 metric tons (8.8 standard tons) were sent into orbit which is a world record [for a commercial launch]” said Jean-Yves Le Gall, chief of the launch company Arianespace, in media reports. "This new success shows that our launchers are very safe."

They weren't always. The 2002 maiden flight of an Ariane 5 ECA ended with the rocket being destroyed remotely after it veered off course. Fortunately, a second test flight in 2005 went off without a hitch.

The rocket launched Wednesday had its original June 24 launch date moved off several times, most recently due to undisclosed technical issues with the launch platform in Kourou -- a site built specifically to handle the larger Ariane 5 ECA, which is capable of lifting as much as 11 metric tons into geosynchronous orbit -- 3 metric tons more than the standard Ariane 5, according to Reuters.

The Boeing-built Spaceway 2 satellite -- to be used to provide high-definition television coverage in the US for DirectTV -- and Indonesia's Telkom 2 telecommunications satellite were safely released into preliminary orbits within 45 minutes after launch.

FMI: www.arianespace.com

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