[Audio from launch: “We’re ready to go with the liftoff, and we’ll be back with you after Soyuz has cleared the tower.]
On October 21st, a Russian Soyuz rocket took flight, ferrying satellites into orbit, as such rockets have done since the 1960s. What was new this time was the launch site. [Countdown audio, in French] The Soyuz launched from Europe's Spaceport at French Guiana in South America. It’s the first time that a Soyuz rocket has departed from anywhere other than Russia or Kazakhstan.
The launch was a major milestone for the European Space Agency, or ESA. The European Spaceport is just north of the equator, where the slingshot effect from Earth's rotation gives rockets the biggest boost. And now Europe has access to the venerable Soyuz rockets, which provide a midsize complement to ESA's heavy-duty Ariane 5 launcher. Next year the ESA expects to debut a third rocket, the Vega, which is optimized for small satellites.
The Soyuz payload itself was a coup for ESA as well. The rocket carried the first two satellites for Galileo, a navigation network that will eventually form a European alternative to the U.S. and Russian GPS systems. It seems the European space program has a good idea where it's going.
[Audio from launch: The DDO saying everything is fine on board. Soyuz lifting off perfectly from the soil here in her new home in French Guiana, beginning her mission number 1777.]
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]