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21 October 2011, a Soyuz soared skywards on its first-ever flight from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG), carrying two European Galileo satellites from the new launch pad built especially to accommodate the Russian launcher. This milestone event marked the culmination of a collaboration initiated in 2003 by the European Space Agency (ESA), Roscosmos and CNES. Since that day, many more satellites have been placed into orbit from the CSG by Soyuz, the venerable Russian rocket that launched Sputnik, the first ever man-made satellite in 1957, and sent later Yuri Gagarin into Earth orbit in 1961.
Europe and France decided to operate the Soyuz launcher from the Kourou spaceport to add a medium-sized launcher to Europe’s range of vehicles and complement the heavy-lift Ariane 5 and the Vega light launcher. Standing 40.5 m tall and with a mass of 308 tonnes, Soyuz is capable of orbiting payloads of up to 4,900 kg. It is marketed by European launch services provider Arianespace.