Airanespace Now Controls The Soyuz Facility In French
The official ceremony marking ESA's handover of the Soyuz launch
site to Arianespace took place Saturday at Europe's Spaceport in
French Guiana, after the site was declared ready for the first
flight and the completion of a simulated launch campaign. The
French space agency, CNES, as prime contractor for the building
work, along with its European and Russian partners, has spent
recent months qualifying the site.
In March, the 'acceptance review' declared that it was ready for
its first rocket and at the same time CNES handed over the
facilities to ESA. The last step was ESA's hand-over to Arianespace
on 31 March. Arianespace became responsible for the Soyuz launch
site and began a simulated launch campaign on 29 April that ended
on 5 May.
This dry run ensured that the Soyuz and the new facilities work
together perfectly, while allowing the teams to train under
realistic launch conditions. It validated all the procedures during
the five-day final phase before a launch.
The ceremony opened with speeches by Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA
Director General, Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chairman and CEO of
Arianespace, Yannick d'Escatha, President of CNES, and Vladimir
Popovkin, Head of Roscosmos. They were followed by Mr Dordain
handing over the site's 'keys' to Mr Le Gall. To mark this occasion
and to celebrate the recent 50th anniversary of the first man in
space, a commemorative plaque and a stone from the Baikonur launch
pad from which Yuri Gagarin took off in 1961 was sealed on the
This stone symbolises the continuity between the Russian launch
site, which saw the start of the space age with Sputnik followed by
the first human spaceflight, and the setting up of a Soyuz launch
operation in French Guiana.
The decision to develop the infrastructure to enable Soyuz to be
launched from French Guiana was of mutual interest to both Europe
and Russia. From a European perspective, closer cooperation with
Russia brings significant benefits, such as a reduction in the
development and production costs of new launcher systems, as well
as opening the door to other possible commercial partnerships in
Construction of the Soyuz site began in February 2007, although
initial excavation and ground infrastructure work began in 2005 and
2006, respectively. Russian staff arrived in French Guiana in
mid-2008 to assemble the launch table, mobile gantry, fuelling
systems and test benches. The first two Soyuz launchers arrived
from Russia by sea in November 2009 to be assembled in the new
preparation and integration building. The launch site is almost
identical to the other Soyuz sites in Kazakhstan and Russia,
although adapted to conform to European safety regulations.
The most visible difference is the 135-foot tall mobile gantry,
which allows payloads to be installed on the launcher vertically on
the launch pad. Its internal movable work platforms provide access
to the Soyuz at various levels for checkout activities.
Soyuz fits neatly between the Ariane 5 and Vega launchers
developed by ESA. Ariane 5 meets the requirements for larger
satellites and Vega will complement this for smaller payloads.
Soyuz also introduces the exciting potential for upgrading the new
launch facility to allow manned launches to the International Space
Station from French Guiana.