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After Long Delay, European Weather Satellite Reaches Orbit

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. (Image credit: Starsem.)

MetOp-Apolar-orbiting weather satellite successfully reached orbit Thursday, ending afour-month series of satellite- and rocket-related delays and opening a newchapter in U.S.-European cooperation in space-based meteorology.

The satellitelaunched 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 thevehicle.

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

Today'ssuccessful liftoff marked the thirdtime in as many days that launch officials readiedMetOp-A and its Soyuz 2booster for flight [image].Three previous launch attempts in July were also plagued by delays.

The4,085-kilogram MetOp-A [image],carrying 11 observing instruments provided by European and U.S. governmentagencies, will become part of a jointly operated system including U.S. andEuropean satellites.

Built by a40-company team led by Astrium, MetOpwill be operated by Europe's EUMETSAT meteorological organization, based inDarmstadt, Germany.

Threeidentical MetOp satellites are being built as part ofa 15-yearprogram to provide continuous coverage of what is known as the mid-morningpolar orbit. MetOp will be crossing the equator atthat time of day. U.S. satellites provided by the National Oceanic andAtmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense will be providingsatellites for the early morning and afternoon polar orbits.

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

The MetOp system -- three satellites, their launch and adedicated ground network -- is budgeted at 2.4 billion euros ($3 billion). TheEuropean Space Agency paid about 23 percent of this sum and acted as the designmanager for the first MetOp spacecraft. The Frenchspace agency, CNES, financed the 236-kilogram IASI atmospheric soundinginstrument, which is one of MetOp's principalinstruments

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

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Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at