Europe delays maiden launch of Soyuz with sat-nav payload

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The maiden launch Thursday of a Russian-built Soyuz from Europe's space base, carrying the first satellites of a planned rival to the GPS, was scrubbed around two hours before liftoff, officials said.

Satellite launch operator Arianespace said the final countdown had been interrupted "following an anomaly detected during fueling of the Soyuz launcher's third stage."

"The Soyuz and its two Galileo satellites, along with the launch facility, have been placed in a safe mode," it said in a press release.

"A new launch date will be announced later today."

The European Space Agency (ESA) had earlier said the launch would be postponed by 24 hours.

Lift-off of the rocket carrying the first satellites in the Galileo system, Europe's 5.4-billion-euro (7.2-billion-dollar) answer to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), had been set for 7:34 a.m. (1034 GMT).

Thursday's launch is the first under a 2003 deal to deploy the rocket beyond its bases in Plesetsk, in northern Russia, and Baikonur, in Kazakhstan.

The contract is designed to bring in revenue for Russia's space industry and provide a dependable medium-weight lifter for Arianespace alongside the heavy Ariane 5, and a future lightweight rocket, the Vega.

From Kourou, Soyuz will be able to hoist 2.8 tonnes into geostatieonary transfer orbit, compared with 1.7 tonnes from Baikonur. The big difference in payload is explained by the extra push given by Earth's rotation at the Equator.

Galileo is designed to comprise 27 operational satellites and three spares by its completion in 2020.

It should be accurate to within a metre (3.25 feet), whereas the US Global Positioning System (GPS), which became operational in 1995 and is being upgraded, is currently accurate to between three and eight metres (10 and 26 feet), according to official websites.

© 2011 AFP

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