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German spy satellite safely in orbit

BERLIN, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Germany's first military spy satellite was in orbit Thursday and ready to be made operational.

The spacecraft launched from Russia earlier this week is the first of five reconnaissance satellites the Germans plan to place in orbit as part of the SAR-Lupe system.

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SAR-Lupe is a German-French joint venture that will provide high-resolution radar imagery to NATO commanders as well as optical and infrared from France's Helios-2 system.

The project was agreed upon by the two nations a few years ago as a means of reducing Europe's dependence on U.S. military reconnaissance satellites.

The German Space Agency reported that the spacecraft was launched earlier this week from Russia's Plesetsk space facility aboard a Russian Cosmos 3M rocket. It reached low Earth orbit and made contact with the ground station in Gelsdorf on schedule.

"A preliminary review of all main functions showed that the satellite can now be put in operation," the agency said in a statement, adding that the device will probably actually open for business sometime in January.

The four other satellites in the SAR-Lupe system will be launched in intervals of between four and six months.

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