BBC: A Russian Soyuz rocket has launched from French Guiana - only the second such vehicle to fly out of the territory’s new Sinnamary spaceport.
The Soyuz put six satellites in orbit, including France’s new Pleiades-1 high-resolution imaging spacecraft.
This satellite is designed to take pictures that resolve features on the ground as small as 50cm across.
The capability will put it on a par with the leading US commercial systems operated by GeoEye and DigitalGlobe.
Lift-off occurred on schedule at 23:03 local time, Friday (02:03 GMT, Saturday), with Pleiades-1 being dropped off in its 700km-high polar orbit some 55 minutes later.
The 970kg satellite is the result of a near-decade-long programme in the French space agency (Cnes) to develop one of the most powerful Earth observation systems in the world.
The spacecraft’s sensor actually has a resolution of 70cm, but image processing will recover detail that is around the half-metre mark.
Pleiades carries gyroscopes that allow it to swivel its telescope in quick time, enabling it to acquire a strip, or mosaic, of images around its target in a single pass overhead.
The Pleiades spacecraft has been assembled by Astrium, Europe’s largest space company, with its instrument supplied by Thales Alenia Space (France).
It will have both a civilian and military role, and a number of European countries (Austria, Belgium, Spain and Sweden) have part-funded the project to get access to its pictures.
Pleiades-1 will be followed by Pleiades-2 on a separate Soyuz launch in 2012.
“The fact that we will have two, twin satellites operating in a phased orbit separated by 180 degrees will give us something very powerful - a daily re-visit capacity. It means we will be able to gather information every day on any part of the globe,” explained Charlotte Gabriel Robez, Pleiades project manager with Astrium Geo-information Services.