European GPS satellite blasts into orbit

An experimental satellite for a much-delayed European Union rival to the United States' GPS navigation system blasted into orbit Sunday after a successful launch atop a Russian rocket, an Associated Press report said.

The report quoted Russian and European space agencies as saying that the Giove-B satellite shot into space atop a Soyuz-FG rocket launched from the Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan, entering orbit as planned.

The EU called the launch a key step toward its planned global satellite navigation system, Galileo.

'The launch of Giove-B is the best possible proof that Galileo is well on its way and is the symbol of European excellence in this new and major technology,' an EU statement quoted Jacques Barrot, the European Commission's vice president in charge of transport, as saying.

Barrot and other senior EU officials monitored the launch from the Fucino control center in Italy, the Associated Press report also said.

Giove-B is the second satellite to be launched for Galileo. It will test technologies to be used in the system, including an atomic clock that the EU says will be the most accurate in space.

Touted as technologically superior to GPS, Galileo is scheduled to be operational by 2013 but has encountered delays. Its first satellite was launched in 2005, but the second missed its late 2006 launch due to a short-circuit problem in final testing.

Late last year, European Union governments had to agree to a taxpayer bailout after a consortium of private companies from France, Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy walked away from the project in a financing dispute.