REUTERS - A European Ariane-5 rocket blasted off from French Guiana on Thursday, putting into orbit two satellites for European telecoms operators, space officials said.
The rocket was launched from Europe's space base in Kourou on the northeast coast of South America at 7.09 p.m. (2209 GMT).
Billed as a cost-effective launcher for large satellites, the Ariane-5 is capable of putting payloads of up to 10 tonnes into orbit.
Arianespace is 30 percent owned by European aerospace giant.
The rocket released the Hot Bird 10 satellite for Paris-based operator Eutelsat 27 minutes after liftoff.
The satellite is to be used for digital and high-definition television broadcasting throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Weighing 4.9 metric tonnes (10,800 lb) at launch, Hot Bird 10 was built by EADS-Astrium, the satellite building arm of EADS.
In a reference to high European launch prices, Eutelsat President Gulliano Beretta said after the launch: "We love Arianespace, even though they are expensive."
A strong euro has led many European operators to launch aboard American and Russian rockets offering lower prices than Europe's Ariane rocket series.
Most satellite operators cannot use China's low-cost Long March rockets as most of their satellites contain U.S.-manufactured components subject to export restrictions.
Six minutes after the first satellite release, the rocket released NSS-9 for Luxembourg-based SES New Skies a division of SES SA. NSS-9 will provide communications services to the Asia-Pacific region.
"Our goal is simple -- to successfully provide our customers with the capacity to grow their businesses," SES New Skies President Robert Bednarek said.
NSS-9 weighed 2.2 tonnes (4,400 lb) at launch and was built by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp.
Two French military microsatellites were also orbited for France's Defence Procurement Agency (DGA).
Earlier on Thursday a Russian and an American satellite collided in space spreading debris over Siberia. Arianespace's President Jean-Yves Le Gall told reporters after the launch that such incidents, though statistically unlikely to occur, were more and more part of life in space due to the amount of clutter.
Le Gall said his company was relatively well positioned for the economic slowdown with its product range increasing. The company has scheduled its first launch from French Guiana of Russian Soyuz rockets at the end of 2009 and in 2010 the introduction of Vega rockets for small satellite launches.
Thursday's mission was the 29th consecutive successful launch of an Ariane-5 rocket.