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Huge US satellite launches aboard European rocket

A European Ariane 5 rocket blasted off from French Guiana with both one of the largest American communication satellites ever built. The rocket is also carrying a European weather-tracking satellite. 

By Tariq / July 6, 2012

An Ariane 5 ascends from French Guiana at sunset Thursday with the EchoStar 17 and MSG-3 satellite payloads into orbit from Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.



A European-built rocket roared into space from South America Thursday (July 5) carrying two new satellites on very different missions.

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The unmanned Ariane 5 rocket blasted off from a pad at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, to send an American communication satellite and European weather-monitoring spacecraft into orbit. Liftoff occurred at 5:36 p.m. EDT (2136 GMT).

Riding the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket into space were the communications satellite EchoStar 17, built for the U.S. company Hughes Network Systems,  and Europe's third Meteosat Second Generation weather satellite, which is also known as MSG-3. The satellites' launch was managed by European rocket provider Arianespace, builder of the Ariane 5 booster.

"By orbiting these two satellites, we have once again demonstrated the flexibility of Ariane 5 – which was capable of simultaneously launching one of the largest telecommunications satellites ever built for an American private operator, along with one of the most capable meteorological satellites developed for a European government organization," Arianespace Chairman & CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall said in a statement after the launch.

The EchoStar 17 satellite is a huge spacecraft that weighs 13,448 pounds (6,100 kilograms) at liftoff. It is a next-generation broadband satellite designed to provide services to users in North America for 15 years. [Amazing Rocket Launch Photos

The MSG-3 spacecraft is the latest weather satellite to join Europe's Meteosat fleet in space. The 4,409-pound (2,000-kilogram) satellite is designed to provide high-resolution images of Europe, Africa and the North Atlantic to help meteorologist generate more accurate weather forecasts.

The satellite is currently being controlled by the European Space Agency's (ESA) operations center in Darmstadt, Germany. But after a testing period to ensure the satellite is operating properly, control of the MSG-3 spacecraft will be turned over to its owners: the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), ESA officials said. Once that handover occurs, the satellite will be rechristened Meteosat-10, they added.

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