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Russian rockets ship to spaceport in French Guiana

The first two Soyuz launchers have left Russia for the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, Arianespace said today.


Each voyage will carry two Soyuz 2-1a vehicles along with the accompanying systems and propellant.  With Arianespace’s planned mission rate of two to four Soyuz flights per year, it expects to perform one or two

trips annually from St. Petersburg with the Russian launchers aboard the roll-on/roll-off ships.

Photo courtesy of Arianespace

“The legendary Russian launcher will lift off from its new launch pad, now being completed, for the first time in 2010,” the space launch service company said in a statement.

The European Space Agency (ESA) set up the program “Soyuz at the Guiana Space Center (CSG)” to bolster collaboration with Russia on launch vehicles.


Photo courtesy of Arianespace

The two Soyuz launchers left St. Petersburg today aboard the MN Colibri, which is one of two ships used by Arianespace to transport Ariane launch vehicles from their European manufacturing sites to French Guiana. The ship will arrive in a port near Kourou, French Guiana, in about two weeks.

“The two Soyuz rockets will be launched in 2010 from a new purpose-built Soyuz launch complex at the Guiana Space Center,” Arianespace said.

“Soyuz will become the medium-lift launcher in the Arianespace family, operated from the most modern launch site in the world alongside the Ariane 5 heavy-lift launcher, which just logged its 34th successful mission in a row.”


This is the first ever shipment of Russia’s Soyuz launcher by sea. “This workhorse vehicle family–which literally introduced the space age–has been operated from two facilities: the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and Russia’s northern launch site at Plesetsk Cosmodrome,” Arianespace said.

Photo courtesy of Arianespace

“The shipment of our first two Soyuz launchers to French Guiana is a major milestone, taking us a step closer to its introduction in Arianespace’s commercial service from Europe’s Spaceport,” said Arianespace chairman and CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall. “With Soyuz, shortly to be joined by Vega, Arianespace will have a complete range of launch vehicles, enabling us to launch any payload, to any orbit, at any time.”


Artist’s impression of the Soyuz installation at the Guiana Space Center

Illustration credits CNES/Cardete et Huet/Les yeux Carrés

Due to the virtually equatorial location of the Guiana Space Center, Soyuz is capable of lofting communications satellites weighing up to 3 metric tons into geostationary orbit–versus 1.8 metric tons from its current launch site in Baikonur.

“Soyuz is also perfectly suited for the launch of scientific or Earth observation spacecraft, as well as constellations of satellites,” Arianespace added.


The Soyuz launchers are built by Russia’s Samara Space Center, which sends the vehicles from its Samara production facility to St. Petersburg via rail. This is the same means of transportation used to transfer Soyuz vehicles to the existing launch sites at Baikonur Cosmodrome and Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

Photo courtesy of Arianespace

Arianespace has ordered 14 Soyuz launchers from Russian industry to date, and nearly all of these launches are already booked. Todate, Arianespace had launched a total of 270 payloads, including more than half of all the commercial satellites now in service worldwide.

ESA is the contracting authority (and program management) and provides the Soyuz launch facilities for use by Arianespace.

The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) bears overall responsibility for the program in Russia, and coordinates the activities of Russian companies involved in the program.