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Huge Rocket Launch Lights Up Tropical Night Sky (Photo)

VA212 Lift Off
The first Ariane 5 heavy-lift mission of 2013, which launched on Feb. 7, delivered the Azerspace/Africasat-1a and Amazonas-3 telecom satellites into orbit. (Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG)

A massive European rocket launches into darkening skies over tropical South America in this stunning photo.

The Ariane 5 rocket, operated by French-based firm Arianespace, blasted off from French Guiana around dusk on Feb. 7 carrying telecommunications satellites for two different clients.

The launch successfully delivered to orbit the Amazonas-3 satellite for Spanish company Hispasat and a spacecraft called Azerspace/Africasat-1a, which will be run by the Azerbaijan Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies and the firm Azercosmos 0JSC.

Azerspace/Africasat-1a will provide a range of telecom services to Azerbaijan, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, Arianespace officials said.

The Feb. 7 liftoff was the 68th total for the Ariane 5 and marked its 54th successful launch in a row.

The Ariane 5 heavy lifter is about 165 feet (50 meters) tall. It can boost 10 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and about twice that much to low-Earth orbit, officials said. The Feb. 7 launch delivered about 10.3 metric tons to GTO, or roughly 22,750 pounds.

The next Ariane 5 flight is slated for this coming June. On that mission, the rocket will launch the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle 4 — an unmanned cargo ship named "Albert Einstein" — toward the International Space Station.

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Mike Wall
SPACE.COM SENIOR SPACE WRITER — Michael has been writing for since 2010. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.