The first pair of satellites for Europe's Galileo global navigation satellite system have been lofted into orbit by the first Russian Soyuz vehicle launched from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The Soyuz VS01 flight, operated by Arianespace, released the Galileo satellites into their target orbit at 23 222 km altitude.

"This launch represents a lot for Europe: we have placed in orbit the first two satellites of Galileo, a system that will position our continent as a world-class player in the strategic domain of satellite navigation, a domain with huge economic perspectives," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA).

"Moreover, this historic first launch of a genuine European system like Galileo was performed by the legendary Russian launcher that was used for Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, a launcher that will, from now on, lift off from Europe's Spaceport. These two historical events are also symbols of cooperation: cooperation between ESA and Russia, with a strong essential contribution of France; and cooperation between ESA and the European Union, in a joint initiative with the EU."

The two Galileo satellites are part of the In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase that will see the Galileo system's space, ground and user segments extensively tested. The satellites are currently being controlled by a joint ESA and CNES French space agency team in Toulouse, France.

After these initial operations, they will be handed over to SpaceOpal, a joint company of the DLR German Aerospace Center and Italy's Telespazio, to undergo 90 days of testing before being commissioned for the IOV phase. The next two Galileo satellites, completing the IOV quartet, are scheduled for launch in summer 2012.