Launch company Arianespace said the "Aeolus" satellite, named after the guardian of wind in Greek mythology, took place at the European spaceport in Kourou, at 2120 GMT Wednesday, after a 24-hour delay due to adverse weather conditions.
The satellite "will probe the lowermost 30 kilometres of the atmosphere in measuring winds around the Earth", Arianespace said.
It will be on a sun-synchronous orbit so its solar panels can always draw power.
Aeolus is part of the Copernicus project, a joint initiative of the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA) to track environmental damage and aid disaster relief operations.
The satellite is equipped with a single instrument: a Doppler wind lidar -- an advanced laser system designed to accurately measure global wind patterns from space.
The Doppler lidar transmits short, powerful pulses of laser light towards Earth in the ultraviolet spectrum. Particles in the air -- moisture, dust, gases -- reflect, or scatter, a small fraction of that light energy back to the transceiver, where it is collected and recorded.
The delay between the outgoing pulse and the "backscattered" signal reveals the wind's direction, speed and distance travelled.
Once per orbit, data is downloaded to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway.
The satellite's "near-real-time observations will provide reliable wind profiles, further improving the accuracy of numerical weather and climate prediction, as well as advance the understanding of tropical dynamics and processes relevant to climate variability," Arianespace said after the launch.
Following three months of on-orbit commissioning, Aeolus will begin its science mission, which is projected to last three years.
Aeolus is the fifth mission in ESA’s Earth Explorer series and also Arianespace's 50th launch for the European Space Agency.