Russia’s Soyuz To Launch From French Guiana

By | July 17, 2002 | Feature

Arianespace and Russia’s space agency Rosaviakosmos have signed an agreement to allow Soyuz rockets to launch at the French company’s launch port in French Guiana. The Russian authorities apparently insisted on Soyuz being able to launch from Kourou as a pre-condition for cooperative work on reusable and other advanced rocket technology.

Western European governments reluctantly accepted the deal because of fears that the United States was pulling too far ahead of Europe in next generation launcher technologies. However, it has not been decided who will finance the construction of the Soyuz launch pad at Arianespace’s equatorial launch site. The Soyuz launch pad is estimated to cost around 270 million euros ($271 million).

A launch industry official who wished to remain anonymous told Interspace: “There is no commercial logic for allowing Soyuz to operate from Kourou and it is inevitable that Soyuz will take business away from Ariane 5. Soyuz will compete with Ariane 5 at the low end of the market which means satellites weighing up to 3,000 kilograms launched to geostationary orbit.”

The European Space Agency disagrees. An ESA official said, “An upgraded version of the Ariane 5 scheduled for commercial use in 2006 will be able to launch two satellites weighing a total of 12,000 kilograms into geostationary orbit. Satellites that are small enough to launch on Soyuz can pose problems for Arianespace. The company might miss out on a big contract if it had already committed itself to launch a smaller satellite on a particular Ariane 5 launch. With Soyuz, Arianespace will be able to accept any contract for virtually any size of satellite, regardless of schedule requirements.”

However, this reasoning depends on Arianespace being able to attract a large proportion of available business for Ariane 5. If commercial customers were to insist on Soyuz, the scenario would have problems. In any case, most Soyuz launches will be for satellites bound for low-Earth orbit. Ariane 5 is too big to be a good economical choice for launching such payloads, as it is unusual for two satellites bound for the same type of low-Earth orbit to be ready at the same time. Soyuz launch services will be sold for $40 million, of which GBP3 million ($4.7 million) will be paid to European governments in return for use of the Guiana launch facilities. An ESA-led launch manifest committee would decide which launchers to use for government customers.

–Gareth Owen

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