After Long Delay, European Weather Satellite Reaches Orbit
A Soyuz 2 roket carrying the European MetOp-A weather satellite launches into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 19, 2006.
Credit: Starsem.

MetOp-A polar-orbiting weather satellite successfully reached orbit Thursday, ending a four-month series of satellite- and rocket-related delays and opening a new chapter in U.S.-European cooperation in space-based meteorology.

The satellite launched atop a newly designed Soyuz 2-1a vehicle at 12:28 p.m. EDT (1628 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan [image], and was reported in good health immediately after its separation from the vehicle.

"It was very intensive," said MetOp flight director Andreas Rudolph in post-launch broadcast from the European Space Agency's Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. "I feel very relaxed of course because we now can see that we have a mission."

Today's successful liftoff marked the third time in as many days that launch officials readied MetOp-A and its Soyuz 2 booster for flight [image]. Three previous launch attempts in July were also plagued by delays.

The 4,085-kilogram MetOp-A [image], carrying 11 observing instruments provided by European and U.S. government agencies, will become part of a jointly operated system including U.S. and European satellites.

Built by a 40-company team led by Astrium, MetOp will be operated by Europe's EUMETSAT meteorological organization, based in Darmstadt, Germany.

Three identical MetOp satellites are being built as part of a 15-year program to provide continuous coverage of what is known as the mid-morning polar orbit. MetOp will be crossing the equator at that time of day. U.S. satellites provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense will be providing satellites for the early morning and afternoon polar orbits.

The three MetOp satellites will be launched at four-year intervals to assure uninterrupted coverage.

The MetOp system -- three satellites, their launch and a dedicated ground network -- is budgeted at 2.4 billion euros ($3 billion). The European Space Agency paid about 23 percent of this sum and acted as the design manager for the first MetOp spacecraft. The French space agency, CNES, financed the 236-kilogram IASI atmospheric sounding instrument, which is one of MetOp's principal instruments

SPACE.com Staff Writer Tariq Malik contributed to this report from New York City.