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A rocket carrying six satellites built by Airbus SE and partner OneWeb blasted off from French Guiana on Wednesday, the first step in a plan to give millions of people in remote and rural areas high-speed internet beamed down from space.

A successful launch could mark a new era in the satellite services industry. Companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, LeoSat Enterprises, and Canada’s Telesat are working to enable data networks with hundreds or even thousands of tiny satellites that orbit closer to Earth than traditional communications satellites, a radical shift made possible by leaps in laser technology and computer chips.

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