September 29, 2005

Soyuz arrives in French Guiana

France has been cooperating with Russia in space since 1966 and initiated the Soyuz in Guiana project through CNES in the early 2000s.

Objectives and organization

Seven other European nations—Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Switzerland— have joined the programme, for which CNES is prime contractor.  ESA is overseeing the programme and Arianespace is launch operator.

The programme’s 2 chief objectives are to:

  • Round out the range of commercial launchers operated by Arianespace. Soyuz will offer medium-lift launch services, filling the gap between the Vega light launcher (lift capacity: 300 kg to 2 tons into low-Earth orbit LEO) and the Ariane 5 heavy-lift launcher (lift capacity: 5.9 to 10 tons into geostationary transfer orbit GTO).
  • Develop space cooperation with Russia. The Soyuz in Guiana programme is part of a long-term strategy to ensure Europe’s independent access to space.

After the 1st flight scheduled in 2010, at least 2 Soyuz flights a year are planned over the next 10 years.

To prepare for Soyuz's arrival in French Guiana, a new launch complex was built at the Guiana Space Centre (CSG). The Soyuz 2-1-a is also being adapted to the Kourou launch pad and teams are taking part in development of Soyuz 2-1-b.

Crewed launches from French Guiana?

Crédits Starsem
Crédits Starsem

While Soyuz has the heritage to envision human-rated launches from the CSG, this prospect is still far from certain at the present time. No budget was allocated since 2005 for crewed flights and agreements signed so far only cover satellite launches.

Moreover, Soyuz versions adapted for the CSG are not human-rated and launch facilities and range safety procedures have not yet been tailored to crew launch requirements.

However, launching European astronauts to the International Space Station from French Guiana would be technically relatively easy to do, taking Europe into the select circle of spacepowers —alongside Russia, the United States and China— with the capability to launch human spaceflights.

A long-haul programme
October 2001 

1st officiel project talks between France and Russia

May 2003ESA resolution concerning European-Russian cooperation on future launch vehicles and construction of Soyuz launch pad in French Guiana
November 2003France and Russia sign intergovernmental agreement to launch Soyuz from the Guiana space center.
December 2004 Funding plan finalized
January 2005Start of earthworks
July 2005ESA-CNES agreement on Soyuz in Guiana project
27 February 2007Safety agreement signed between CNES and Roskosmos, start of work on the Soyuz launch site at Sinnamary
2008Delivery of ground segment equipment and start of joint work with Russia
End of 2009Delivery of 2 Soyuz ST-1a
20111st qualification flight

More about

Related links