It is near the equator, so that less energy is required to manoeuvre a spacecraft into an equatorial, geostationary orbit. Rockets launch to the east to take advantage of the angular momentum provided by Earth's rotation.
It has open sea to the east, so that lower stages of rockets and debris from launch failures are unlikely to fall on human habitations.
The location was selected in 1964 to become the spaceport of France.
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.
The now-decommissioned ELA-2 - Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 2 Ariane 4 launch site
The final assembly building for Ariane 5
Kourou is located approximately 500 kilometres (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 (1,035 miles per hour) at the Guiana Space Centre, as compared to about 406 m/s (908 miles per hour) at the United States east coast Cape Canaveral 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. Although, the massive SpaceX Falcon Heavy makes up for the geographic disadvantage of Cape Canaveral lifting up to 26,700 kg to GTO.
BEC / ELA-1 / ELV
Originally built in the 1960s under the name of Base Équatoriale du CECLES (French: Conférence Européenne de Construction de Lanceurs et d'Engins Spatiaux, English: European conference on construction of launchers and spacecraft), the pad located at 5°14′10″N52°46′30″W / 5.236°N 52.775°W / 5.236; -52.775 was designed for the Europa-II rocket. One Europa-II was launched from the site, before the programme was cancelled.
The pad was demolished, and subsequently rebuilt as the first launch complex for Ariane rockets. Renamed ELA (later redesignated ELA-1), it was used for Ariane 1 and Ariane 2 and 3 launches until being retired in 1989.
In November 2001, it was renamed ELV pad (French: Ensemble de Lancement Vega) and refurbished again for the Vega rocket. The first launch was performed on 13 February 2012.
ELS is located on the territory of Sinnamary commune, 27 km (17 mi) from Kourou harbor. It is 10 km (6.2 mi) north 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 September 13, 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.
On October 21, 2011, two Galileo IOV-1 & IOV-2 satellites were launched using a Soyuz-ST rocket, in the "first Russian Soyuz vehicle ever launched from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana."
Final assembly building
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 kilometres (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.
Ariane IV launched from the Guiana Space Centre on 10 August 1992
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.
10 March 1970 - The first Diamant-B launched the DIAL/MIKA and DIAL/WIKA satellites. DIAL/MIKA failed during launch, but it entered orbit with a total mass of 111 kg. DIAL/WIKA provided data for about two months after launch.
1 July 2009 — An Ariane 5 carrying TerreStar-1, the heaviest commercial telecommunications satellite ever launched
18 December 2009 — An Ariane 5 carrying Helios 2B European military observation satellite used by France, Belgium, Spain and Greece.
21 May 2011 — 04:38 (GMT+08:00) An Ariane 5 ECA rocket launched carrying ST-2 Satellite twice as powerful SingTel's first satellite ST-1 which was launched back in 1998. It will provide 20 per cent more transponder capacity and a wider coverage footprint than ST-1, with C-band and Ku-band coverage of the Middle East, Central Asia, Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia.
21 October 2011 — A Soyuz-2 carrying two Galileo satellites was launched. This was the first launch of a Soyuz rocket at the Guiana Space Centre.
17 December 2011 — A Soyuz carrying the French space agency's Pleiades 1 Earth imaging satellite, four ELISA electronic intelligence satellites, and the SSOT remote sensing satellite for the Chilean military. This was the second launch of a Soyuz at the Guiana Space Centre.
An Ariane 5 lifts off from Kourou on 29 August 2013.
13 February 2012 — The Vega, which was designed in Italy, lifted off at 10:00 GMT on its maiden voyage. The launcher released nine satellites into orbit: two Italian satellites and seven pico-satellites.
5 July 2012 — The unmanned Ariane 5 rocket took off to send an American communication satellite and European weather-monitoring spacecraft into orbit. Liftoff occurred at 17:36 EDT (21:36 GMT).
30 August 2013 — Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the advanced multi-band communication satellite GSAT-7. It was 17th Indian satellite launched from ESA with Ariane.
1 October 2015 — Sky Muster (NBN-Co 1A) is a communication satellite launched on an Ariane 5ECA rocket. Sky Muster is the first satellite of an operation to improve Australia's internet with the NBN program.
6 October 2016 — Sky Muster II (NBN-Co 1B) is a communication satellite launched on an Ariane 5ECA rocket. Sky Muster II is the second satellite of an operation to improve Australia's internet with the NBN program.
28 January 2017 — A Soyuz-2 STB carrying the geostationary communication satellite Hispasat 36W-1 to orbit. It is the first of the ESA's "Small-GEO" class of satellites.
14 February 2017 - An Ariane 5 rocket carrying the commercial communication satellites Sky Brasil 1 (Intelsat 32e) and Telekom 3S launched the satellites to a geostationary orbit.
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.
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 28 November 2019.