1529 GMT (11:29 a.m. EDT)
An ESA spokesperson confirms both Galileo validation satellites have unfurled their solar panels as planned. Both spacecraft are healthy after this morning's successful launch.
1431 GMT (10:31 a.m. EDT)
Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director general of ESA, says both Galileo satellites are in contact with the control center in Toulouse, France.
1425 GMT (10:25 a.m. EDT)
As the Fregat prepares to move into a higher graveyard orbit to avoid interference with the Galileo satellites, each of the spacecraft are now beginning a series of milestones, including deployment of their solar panels to produce power.
Meanwhile, Arianespace and European Space Agency officials are giving their traditional post-launch speeches.
1422 GMT (10:22 a.m. EDT)
SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! Flying more than 14,000 miles over the Indian Ocean south of Australia, the Fregat upper stage has deployed the first two operational Galileo navigation satellites in opposite directions.
1415 GMT (10:15 a.m. EDT)
The Fregat has turned off its main engine and is now orienting itself to simultaneously deploy the two 1,543-pound Galileo navigation satellites. Spacecraft separation is expected around 1420 GMT (10:20 a.m. EDT).
1411 GMT (10:11 a.m. EDT)
The main engine of the Fregat upper stage is firing again to circularize its orbit at an altitude 14,429 miles. This burn will last about 4 minutes and 22 seconds.
1405 GMT (10:05 a.m. EDT)
T+plus 3 hours, 35 minutes. The second ignition of the Fregat upper stage is five minutes away.
1059 GMT (6:59 a.m. EDT)
T+plus 29 minutes. The second ignition of the Fregat upper stage is expected at 1410 GMT (10:10 a.m. EDT).
1055 GMT (6:55 a.m. EDT)
T+plus 25 minutes. Fregat shutdown confirmed as the rocket speeds through space at nearly 21,000 mph over Eastern Europe.
1040 GMT (6:40 a.m. EDT)
T+plus 10 minutes. The third stage engine has shut down and separated from the Fregat-MT upper stage, which will fire in a few seconds to reach orbit.
1037 GMT (6:37 a.m. EDT)
T+plus 7 minutes. Now being accelerated on the power of its third stage engine, the Soyuz rocket is flying at a speed of 11,100 mph over the Atlantic Ocean.
1035 GMT (6:35 a.m. EDT)
T+plus 5 minutes, 15 seconds. The second and third stages have separated and the third stage RD-0124 engine is now firing.
Altitude is now 160 kilometers and velocity is nearly 4 kilometers per second.
1034 GMT (6:34 a.m. EDT)
The 13.5-foot-diameter nose cone has been jettisoned now that the rocket is outside of the lower atmosphere.
1032 GMT (6:32 a.m. EDT)
T+plus 2 minutes. Separation of the Soyuz rocket's four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters at an altitude of nearly 35 miles.
1030 GMT (6:30 a.m. EDT)
LIFTOFF of the Soyuz rocket, making history on its first mission from French Guiana with two European navigation satellites!
1029 GMT (6:29 a.m. EDT)
T-minus 20 seconds. The upper umbilical has retracted and the ignition sequence has begun.
1028 GMT (6:28 a.m. EDT)
T-minus 2 minutes.
1022 GMT (6:22 a.m. EDT)
The launch key has been installed inside the launch control center, beginning the Soyuz rocket's synchronized countdown sequence.
1022 GMT (6:22 a.m. EDT)
Rain is now falling at the launch pad, but that's not an issue for liftoff as long as lightning stays away.
1020 GMT (6:20 a.m. EDT)
Ten minutes until launch.
1016 GMT (6:16 a.m. EDT)
All systems are currently green for an on-time launch.
1000 GMT (6:00 a.m. EDT)
Now 30 minutes until launch. The Soyuz rocket family has flown 1,776 times since the 1950s, but this is the first time a Soyuz will have launched outside of the former territories of the Soviet Union.
Engineers changed procedures involved with conditioning the rocket and its payloads to deal with the warmer temperatures and higher humidity of tropical French Guiana.
They also added the capability to command the Soyuz engines to be switched off from the ground. Soyuz rockets launching from Kazakhstan or Russia have on-board computers to turn off the engines in the event of an emergency, but European officials required the ability to order a shutdown from the ground.
Rockets launched from the United States carry explosives on-board that could be fired to destroy the launch vehicle in the event of a major problem.
0959 GMT (5:59 a.m. EDT)
Under a blanket of menacing dark clouds, the Soyuz rocket glows bright white with frost. Its propellant tanks are full of cryogenic liquid oxygen stored at almost -300 degrees Fahrenheit.
0950 GMT (5:50 a.m. EDT)
The Soyuz launch pad, which was completed earlier this year, covers nearly 300 acres and required a million cubic meters of earthworks, 35,000 cubic meters of concrete and 3,500 metric tons of reinforcements, according to CNES, the French space agency.
0936 GMT (5:36 a.m. EDT)
It took three years and cost European governments $800 million to build the Soyuz launch facility, which is known by its French acronym ELS. Other than the 17-story mobile servicing tower, the launch pad is modeled after the Soyuz launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The Soyuz pad includes blue and yellow umbilical arms and hold-down petals at the base of the rocket. On the back side of the pad is a deep flame trench dug out of granite bedrock.
The launch site is about six miles northwest of the Ariane launch facilities at the Guiana Space Center and lies closer to the town of Sinnamary than Kourou, which is more typically associated with the spaceport.
0930 GMT (5:30 a.m. EDT)
One hour until liftoff. Retraction of the mobile gantry is underway at the Guiana Space Center.
0912 GMT (5:12 a.m. EDT)
The Soyuz rocket is now fully fueled with kerosene and now preparations are underway to retract the 170-foot-tall mobile gantry away from the launcher.
Unlike Soyuz pads in Russia and Kazakhstan, the new launch site features a mobile service structure to protect the rocket from weather and permit the vertical attachment of payloads.
In Russia, the payloads are mated to the Soyuz horizontally, then the rocket rolls out on a train to be lifted upright. In French Guiana, the Soyuz core vehicle is integrated in an assembly building less than a half-mile from the pad, then it's moved to the launch mount and erected. The payload is lifted on top of the rocket about 12 hours later.
0805 GMT (4:05 a.m. EDT)
Liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants are now flowing into the Soyuz rocket. The launcher's liquid-fueled strap-on boosters, core stage and third stage each burn the combination of propellants.
The rocket's Fregat upper stage, which will guide the Galileo satellites into their 14,429-mile-high orbit, consumes storable propellant already loaded inside its fuel tanks.
0610 GMT (2:10 a.m. EDT)
Officials have given the "go" for fueling of the Soyuz rocket this morning. And radio checks between the launch vehicle and ground tracking facilities have been completed successfully.
The weather is improving around the launch site, which is located about six miles northwest of the Ariane 5 and Vega launch pads at the Guiana Space Center. Engineers selected the Soyuz launch site based on terrain, geology and a location away from Ariane facilities to ensure they did not interfere with each other.
There remains a slight threat of lightning at launch time.
The launch team is loading more than 500,000 pounds of liquid oxygen and kerosene propellant into the rocket this morning, plus hydrogen peroxide to drive the engines' gas turbines and liquid nitrogen to keep the propellant tanks pressurized.
0545 GMT (1:45 a.m. EDT)
The Russian State Commission, which includes representatives from organizations involved in the mission, should be meeting now to give the "go" for fueling of the Soyuz rocket.
0401 GMT (12:01 a.m. EDT)
The countdown has started again for this morning's second launch attempt. Checks of electrical ground interfaces between the control center and the launch pad have been successfully completed.
Next up are telemetry checks between transmitters and receivers on the rocket and at tracking sites.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2011
1925 GMT (3:25 p.m. EDT)
GO FOR LAUNCH. European and Russian officials have approved another launch attempt tomorrow morning at 1030:26 GMT (6:30:26 a.m. EDT; 7:30:26 a.m. local time) after resolving the issue with the leaky valve responsible for scrubbing liftoff this morning.
1825 GMT (2:25 p.m. EDT)
Arianespace has released more details on the problem that caused this morning's scrub.
A leak was detected in a launch pad pneumatic system that activates the disconnection of fueling lines from the Soyuz third stage before liftoff, according to Arianespace.
"During the final phase of third stage fueling, there apparently was a change in pressure in this pneumatic system, and we observed the unplanned disconnection of the two connectors that enable the fueling of Soyuz’ third stage with liquid oxygen and kerosene," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, Arianespace chairman and CEO. "The problem apparently is due to a valve leak in this pneumatic system, and we have taken the decision to empty the launcher and replace the valve."
Officials will decide whether to proceed with launch Friday morning later today. If approved, liftoff would occur at 1030 GMT (6:30 a.m. EDT; 7:30 a.m. local time) from the Guiana Space Center.
0944 GMT (5:44 a.m. EDT)
Officials say a new launch date will be announced later today. A posting on the official CNES Twitter page says to expect a decision at 1500 GMT (11 a.m. EDT).
0937 GMT (5:37 a.m. EDT)
Today was the first time propellant has ever been loaded into a Soyuz rocket at the Guiana Space Center. Engineers tested fueling pumps and made connections between the rocket and the launch pad during previous checks, but they never fueled the vehicle.
0926 GMT (5:26 a.m. EDT)
CNES, the French space agency, says this morning's launch was scrubbed after an anomaly during fueling of the Soyuz rocket's third stage. There is no new launch date yet.
An Arianespace official confirms the launch delay.
0903 GMT (5:03 a.m. EDT)
SCRUB. This morning's launch has been scrubbed due to an issue encountered during fueling. We're waiting for more details.
0750 GMT (3:50 a.m. EDT)
The launch is doubly important for Europe, which hopes to exploit the Soyuz for commercial and institutional missions. For communications satellites bound for geosynchronous orbit, launching the Soyuz from French Guiana almost doubles its performance over flights from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The Soyuz rocket family has flown 1,776 times dating back to the 1950s, but it has never launched from anywhere other than Baikonur and the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.
The crucial payload bolted atop the Soyuz rocket is the other source of Europe's interest. The launcher will deliver the first two operational satellites of the European Union's Galileo navigation program into orbit more than 14,000 miles above Earth.
Now estimated to cost $7.2 billion to complete, the Galileo program has a frustratingly long list of delays and cost overruns, but the constellation is finally on the verge of reality.
0730 GMT (3:30 a.m. EDT)
Officials report fueling of the Soyuz rocket is now underway. Hydrogen peroxide has been loaded into the launcher to drive gas turbines in the rocket's engine turbopumps, and liquid oxygen is being loaded into the rocket as an oxidizer.
Kerosene fuel and liquid nitrogen pressurant will begin flowing into the 151-foot-tall rocket soon.
The launch team is loading more than 500,000 pounds of liquid oxygen and kerosene propellant into the rocket this morning.
0617 GMT (2:17 a.m. EDT)
The Russian State Commission has given a "go" for fueling of the Soyuz rocket with liquid propellants. Everything is still on track for an on-time liftoff at 1034 GMT (6:34 a.m. EDT; 7:34 a.m. local time).
0534 GMT (1:34 a.m. EDT)
Five hours until launch. The State Commission meeting in French Guiana should begin now to give final approval for fueling and launch. Like rocket launches from Russia, this traditional commission includes representatives of the organizations involved in the mission.
0505 GMT (1:05 a.m. EDT)
Radio links between the Soyuz rocket and the range are now being checked, and the kerosene fueling system to the northwest of the pad is being set up in advance of propellant loading, which is due to begin in less than 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, upper level winds are expected to be good for launch, but there is a slight chance of lightning. The Soyuz has one second to get off the ground today at 1034:28 GMT (6:34:28 a.m. EDT; 7:34:28 a.m. local time).
Reserve launch dates are available Friday and Saturday, according to Arianespace officials.
0430 GMT (12:30 a.m. EDT)
Officials report the countdown is progressing well as tracking assets and ground facilities are prepared for the launch.
0401 GMT (12:01 a.m. EDT)
The weather forecast for launch time calls for acceptable conditions with partly cloudy skies and light southwest winds.
The Russian State Commission will give final authorization for fueling and launch at 0614 GMT (2:14 a.m. EDT). Liquid propellants will start flowing into the rocket at 0634 GMT (2:34 a.m. EDT) and fueling should be finished by 0849 GMT (4:49 a.m. EDT), according to Arianespace, the commercial launch services provider for today's mission.
The 170-foot-tall mobile gantry will be retracted on rail tracks to the launch position at 0934 GMT (5:34 a.m. EDT).
We have posted a countdown timeline describing major events leading up to liftoff at 1034 GMT (6:34 a.m. EDT).
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2011
2230 GMT (6:30 p.m. EDT)
The Russian space agency released this neat music video
showing the Soyuz rocket's move to the launch pad.
1930 GMT (3:30 p.m. EDT)
Fulfilling a challenging marriage between the Russian and European space programs, a Soyuz rocket stands on top of a brand new launch pad for liftoff Thursday with the first operational satellites of Europe's $7.2 billion Galileo navigation program.
Eight years after the Russian and French governments agreed to build a new launch complex in French Guiana, the first Soyuz rocket to fly from the equatorial site is on the eve of blastoff.
Launch is scheduled for 1034:28 GMT (6:34:28 a.m. EDT) from the Soyuz launch facility at the Guiana Space Center. Liftoff will be at 7:34 a.m. local time.
The launch readiness review completed Wednesday gave approval to continue preparations to the point of fueling, which begins approximately four hours before liftoff. A Russian state commission will decide whether to go ahead with the loading of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants early Thursday morning.
A final launch dress rehearsal Tuesday exercised the rocket's telemetry systems and gave the Russian launch team a final opportunity to hone their skills.
The three-stage Soyuz launcher will soar from the launch pad more than an hour after sunrise, aiming northeast from the French Guiana coastline and traversing the Atlantic Ocean in just a few minutes.
The kerosene-burning core stages of the Soyuz will accelerate a Fregat upper stage and the two Galileo satellite payloads to nearly orbital velocity.
The hydrazine-fueled Fregat rocket stage will ignite for 13 minutes to place itself in an oval-shaped transfer orbit, then coast through space for more than three hours before a second burn circularizes the orbit at an altitude of 14,429 miles.
Mounted on a specially-designed dispenser during the flight, each 1,543-pound satellite will be released 3 hours and 49 minutes after liftoff.
Within an hour of spacecraft separation, the satellites will deploy their solar panels and and turn themselves toward the sun to charge batteries. Ground stations in Australia and the Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean should also acquire the first communications signals from the satellites, confirming their health after launch.
Check out photos of the rocket's rollout to the launch pad and the lifting of the Galileo satellites inside the payload fairing.
Both milestones occurred Friday.
We have also posted photos from Saturday of the rocket poised on the launch pad in flight configuration.