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Russia launches European gravity probe

Moscow — A pioneering European satellite designed to map Earth’s gravity field was launched Tuesday from the Plesetsk site in northern Russia, space officials said.

"The rocket carrying the European satellite was launched as planned," a spokeswoman for the Khrunichev space centre told AFP by telephone.

The launch of the sophisticated satellite had been scheduled to take place on Monday but was delayed by a day for what space officials in Moscow and in Rome described as technical reasons.

The European Space Agency’s Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE, has suffered several delays since its original launch date of September 10 from the Plesetsk cosmodrome, 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of Moscow.

The satellite’s launcher is a Rockot, derived from a Russian intercontinental ballistic missile and operated by a joint venture between EADS Astrium and the Khrunichev Space Centre.

Part of ESA’s "Earth Explorer" programme initiated in 1999, GOCE’s mission is to deepen understanding about fundamentals of the planet — its atmosphere, oceans, biosphere and interior.

Scientists say it will be especially useful in gathering data about climate change, and its impact on Earth.