In 1973 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Ariane programme with the aim of giving European countries the possibility of sending their satellites into orbit without depending on the United States or the Soviet Union. The first rocket took off from the base in Kourou, French Guyana in 1979. Since then, Ariane rockets have launched nearly 300 satellites. Since 1996, Ariane 5 has put satellites and heavy loads into low orbits (less than 2,000 kilometres altitude). It has two solid-propellant strap-on boosters that provide most of the 1,200 tons of thrust at launching. The rocket is over five metres in diameter, allowing it to carry two satellites for a total load of 10 tons. Despite the failure of the first two flights, Ariane 5 has enabled Europe to remain the leader in the launching of commercial satellites, with a 50% market share.