Two navigation satellites from Europe’s Galileo programme blasted off on Friday from French Guiana aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

The rocket lifted off from Kourou Spaceport at 1815 GMT and launched the satellites into orbit after three hours, 45 minutes in flight.

Galileo is a joint initiative of the European Space Agency and the European Union, which will provide a European version of the US GPS navigation system.

The two 700-kilogramme satellites launched on Friday from South America join a first pair of satellites launched by a Soyuz rocket in October 2011.

The ESA described the launch as a “significant milestone.” “The four satellites launched on Arianespace’s VS03 (on Friday) and (last year’s) VS01 missions will form an operational mini-constellation that enables a validation of the Galileo system,” ESA said.

Deployment of the full Galileo system of 30 satellites will take several years.