To be a full-fledged space power, Europe needs its own efficient and reliable launch systems. To ensure its independent access to space, ESA has developed and built the successful Ariane launchers and established its own spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana. Europe’s spaceport will soon be capable of launching an even wider variety of spacecraft, as the European Vega launcher becomes operational and launches of the Russian-built Soyuz start from French Guiana.

Cooperation with Russia

Since the end of 1950s the workhorses of the Russian space program have been various versions of the Soyuz and Proton launch vehicles.

Russia offers a wide range of launch systems of different classes, from the heavy-lift Proton to lightweight launchers converted from former ballistic missiles. Given Russia’s long and reliable record of launching spacecraft, longer than any other space-exploring nation, ESA also uses Russian-made systems to launch European spacecraft. The choice of launcher is governed by the payload weight and dimensions, the target orbit and other technical parameters. Launches from the Baikonur, Plesetsk and Svobodny sites have delivered into space European scientific observatories and telecommunication satellites for national space programmes.

Artist's impression of a Soyuz/ST

Under an agreement between ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency, Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana is becoming a launch base for the Soyuz launch vehicles, which will allow Europe to use this reliable Russian medium-class launcher for a variety of missions. The construction of facilities for the Soyuz launcher at Kourou is approaching completion, and the first launch of a Soyuz from Kourou is expected at the end of 2009.

Last update: 13 May 2009

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