Europe has launched the first part of a new space "data highway" that will pave the way for faster-than-ever monitoring of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
The EDRS-A node, which was carried into space by a Russian Proton-M rocket, is the first building block of the European Data Relay Satellite, which will cost nearly 500 million euros ($545 million).
The satellite will considerably improve transmission of large amounts of data, such as pictures and radar images, as it will no longer have to wait for a ground station on Earth to come into view.
The satellite, which blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, is to orbit Earth at an altitude of around 36,000 kilometers.
It will relay data on sea ice, oil spills, and floods from Europe's multi-billion euro Copernicus Earth observation project to users in Europe, Africa, and the Atlantic area. Its services will also be available to other paying customers.
The satellite was created through a partnership between the European Space Agency and Airbus.
A second satellite is to be launched in mid-2017, with further ones to follow.