Aerial view of Guiana Space Centre
|Formed||14 April 1964|
|Jurisdiction||Government of France|
|Headquarters||Kourou, French Guiana, France|
|Employees||1,525 direct (2011)|
7,500 indirect (2011)
The Guiana Space Centre (French: Centre Spatial Guyanais; CSG) also called Europe's Spaceport is a French and European spaceport to the northwest of Kourou in French Guiana, a region of France in South America. Operational since 1968, it is particularly suitable as a location for a spaceport. It fulfills the two major geographical requirements of such a site:
The European Space Agency (ESA), the French space agency CNES (National Centre for Space Studies), and the commercial companies Arianespace and Azercosmos conduct launches from Kourou. This was the spaceport used by the ESA to send supplies to the International Space Station using the Automated Transfer Vehicle.
In 1975, France offered to share Kourou with ESA. Commercial launches are bought also by non-European companies. ESA pays two thirds of the spaceport's annual budget, and has also financed the upgrades made during the development of the Ariane launchers.
Kourou is located approximately 500 km (310 mi) north of the equator, at a latitude of 5°. It is a common misconception that the main advantage of launching a rocket from the equator is the extra boost provided by the speed of the Earth's rotation. For example, the eastward boost provided by the Earth's rotation is about 463 m/s (1,520 ft/s) at the Guiana Space Centre, as compared to about 406 m/s (1,330 ft/s) at the United States east coast Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center spaceports which are at 28°27′N latitude in Florida. This means that rockets need around 60 m/s more delta-v to reach low earth orbit (LEO) from Cape Canaveral, which is an insignificant disadvantage.
In reality, the main benefit of Kourou is that the near-equatorial launch location provides an advantage for launches to low-inclination (or geostationary) Earth orbits compared to launches from spaceports at higher latitude. This is because rockets can be launched into orbits with an inclination of as low as ~6°. The lowest inclination a rocket from Cape Canaveral could be launched to is 28.5° (the latitude of Cape Canaveral). Inclination change burns already require significant amounts of delta-v, so needing to change inclination by 28.5° seriously affects a rocket's capability to send satellites into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). As a result of these phenomena, similarly sized Proton and Ariane 5 rockets can send similar payloads to LEO. However, the Proton, launched from high latitudes in Russia, can only send 6,270 kg to GTO while a Kourou-launched Ariane 5 can send more than 10,000 kg to GTO. However, the massive SpaceX Falcon Heavy makes up for the geographic disadvantage of Cape Canaveral by lifting up to 26,700 kg to GTO.
Originally built in the 1960s under the name of Base Équatoriale du CECLES (English: ELDO Equatorial Base), the pad located at was designed for the Europa-II launch vehicle. One Europa-II was launched from the site in 1971 which ended in failure due to a guidance problem, before the programme was cancelled.
The pad was demolished, and subsequently rebuilt as the first launch complex for Ariane as ELA (French: Ensemble de Lancement Ariane). Redesignated later as ELA-1, it was used for Ariane 1 and Ariane 2 and 3 launches until being retired in 1989.
The ELA-2 pad (French: Ensemble de Lancement Ariane-2), located at , built in 1986, had been used for Ariane 4 launches from 1988 until 2003. Before 1988, although purpose-built for Ariane 4, the pad hosted a Ariane-2 and two Ariane-3 launches. The complex consisted of two areas: the launcher preparation zone and the launch pad itself, separated by one kilometer, allowing a launcher to be assembled in the preparation zone while another launches from the pad. A mobile service tower at the launch pad provided a protected environment for payload installation and final preparation of the rocket. In September 2011 the pad's service tower was demolished using explosives.
ESA has built ELS (French: Ensemble de Lancement Soyouz) at for launching Russian-built Soyuz-2 rockets. The first Soyuz launch from ELS was postponed several times, but launched on 21 October 2011.
ELS is located on the territory of Sinnamary commune, 27 km (17 mi) from Kourou harbor. It is 10 km (6.2 mi) northwest of the site used for the Ariane 5 launches. Under the terms of the Russo-European joint venture, ESA will augment its own launch vehicle fleet with Soyuz rockets — using them to launch ESA or commercial payloads — and the Russians will get access to the Kourou spaceport for launching their own payloads with Soyuz rockets. Russia will use the Guiana Space Centre in addition to Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Guiana location has the significant benefit of greatly increased payload capability, owing to the near equatorial position. A Soyuz rocket with a 1.7 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) performance from Baikonur will increase its payload potential to 2.8 tonnes from the Guiana launch site.
The ELS project is being co-funded by Arianespace, ESA, and the European Union, with CNES being the prime contractor. The project has a projected cost of approximately €320 million, where €120 million are allocated for modernizing the Soyuz vehicle. The official opening of the launch site construction occurred on 27 February 2007. Excavation work however, had previously begun several months beforehand.
On 13 September 2010, Spaceflight Now reported that after several delays in the construction of a mobile gantry the launch pad had been finished, and the first flight of the Soyuz was expected to occur in early 2011. By October 2010, 18 launch contracts had been signed. Arianespace has ordered 24 launchers from Russian industry.
Astrium assembles each Ariane 5 launcher in the Launcher Integration Building. The vehicle is then delivered to the Final Assembly Building for payload integration by Arianespace. The Final Assembly Building is located 2.8 km (1.7 mi) from the ELA-3 launch zone. The mobile launch table completes the trip with an Ariane 5 in about one hour. It is then secured in place over the launch pad's flame ducts.
Fire safety is ensured by a detachment of the Paris Fire Brigade, a branch of the French Army. Security around the base is ensured by French Gendarmerie forces, assisted by the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment of the French Foreign Legion. Before and during launch windows, CSG facility security is significantly enhanced by anti-personnel and anti-aircraft measures, the exact configurations of which are classified by the French military. All entrants to the launch complex are also subject to checks for proof of permission to enter the facility.
The Guiana Space Centre (as per CNES) also contains the Îles du Salut, a former penal colony including the infamous Devil's Island. Now a tourist site, the islands are under the launching trajectory for geosynchronous orbit and have to be evacuated during launches.
As of 2017[update], Kourou counts amongst the spaceports with the highest percentage of successful launches, both successive and overall. Here is a chronology of all orbital launches from the Kourou spaceport since 1970, under the French and European space programmes.
Success Failure Partial Failure Scheduled
Charts include all orbital launches from Kourou; sounding rockets are excluded.
Historical data: launch tables from List of Ariane launches, Soyuz ST, Vega and Encyclopedia Aeronautica.
Last updated on 29 April 2021.
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