Alphasat, the European Space Agency's largest and most advanced communications satellite to date, was launched from Kourou, French Guiana.

Lift-off was at 19:54 GMT Thursday aboard an Ariane 5 ECA Rocket, the ESA said.

The satellite reached orbit 28 minutes later and a ground station in Beijing began receiving Alphasat's signal within an hour of the launch, according to an ESA statement.

Roughly the size of a double-decker bus, Alphasat is the fruit of a partnership between the ESA and British telecoms company Inmarsat, operator of a global mobile network.

Alphasat will be the first satellite to function with Alphabus, a new European telecommunications platform developed by the ESA and French space agency CNES.

The new satellite has the capacity to perform trillions of operations per second and is set to expand Inmarsat's global broadband network.

Alphasat is also equipped with an experimental, laser-based apparatus for optical communication, which will be tested with transmissions to and from Germany's Tandem-X satellite.

"Alphasat will foster the competitiveness of a European telecommunications operator, Inmarsat, associated with European industry, in a domain where the economic prospects are high," ESA's director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, Magali Vaissiere, said. EFE