Strapped to a Russian Soyuz rocket that took off from French Guiana at 10.30AM GMT this past Friday, the Galileo project's first two satellites have now been launched into orbit. Their departure from our giant blue orb of a planet is momentous for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the massive investment that the European Space Agency has already poured into the Galileo satellite navigation systems, which can now begin to be tested in earnest, but it's also notable that this is the first time that a Soyuz launcher has been deployed from the European Spaceport, potentially marking a growing relationship of international cooperation.
The ESA will soon commence its In-Orbit Validation procedures, which will seek to prove that both ground and space-borne systems are functioning reliably by putting them through a battery of tests. Those checks will be completed once a second pair of Galileo satellites launch in the summer of 2012, to be followed by a bunch more data transmitters further down the line. It's an inarguably ambitious project, but the European Commission's Vice-President Antonio Tajani is unequivocal about its importance: "We need this; this not entertainment. This is necessary for the competitiveness of our European Union in the world."