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Russia's Soyuz blasts off from French Guiana

Reuters/Benoît Tessier

A Russian Soyuz rocket took off from the European space base in French Guiana Friday, carrying the first two satellites in the Galileo system that means to give Europe its own satellite navigation system.

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The launch, at 10.30 GMT, was an unprecedented step in space cooperation.

It marked the first time that Soyuz, which traces its origins to the 1957 Sputnik and the first manned flight by Yuri Gagarin, has lifted off from outside Russia. It was the 1,777th Soyuz launch.

Arianespace, which markets launch at the Kourou base, says it has orders for 14 Soyuz launches, including the third and fourth satellites in the Galileo group.

The 5.4-billion-euro aims to establish European independence from the US’s Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) and will comprise 27 operational satellites and three spares. It will be accurate to within a metre, compared to GPS’s eight metres and improve reception in cities, where tall buildings can block signals.

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