About Europe's Spaceport

In 1964, the French Government chose Kourou as a base from which to launch its satellites from 14 different sites. When the European Space Agency came into being in 1975, the French Government offered to share its Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) with ESA. For its part, ESA approved funding to upgrade the launch facilities at the CSG to prepare the spaceport for the Ariane launchers that were under development.

Since then, ESA has continued to fund 2/3rd of the spaceport's annual budget in order to finance the operations and the investments needed to maintain the top level services provided by the spaceport for the launch campaigns. In addition, ESA has financed the new facilities, such as launch complexes and industrial production facilities, required by the successive Ariane programmes.

Kourou lies at latitude 5°3', just over 500 km north of the equator. This makes it ideally placed for launches into geostationary transfer orbit as its closeness to the equator means that few changes have to be made to a satellite’s trajectory. Launchers also profit from the ‘slingshot’ effect (the energy created by the speed of the Earth’s rotation around the axis of the Poles) as this increases the speed of the launcher by 460 m per second). Both these factors save fuel and money, and prolong the active life of satellites.

2000: An excellent year of operations for Ariane
2000: An excellent year of operations for Ariane

Thanks to its geographical position, Europe's spaceport offers a launch angle of 102°, enabling a wide range of missions from East to North. In fact, Europe’s spaceport is so well placed that with just one spaceport all possible space missions can be carried out with a minimum of risk. It is also a very safe site as French Guiana is largely covered by tropical forests and there is no risk of cyclones or earthquakes.

The high level of efficiency, safety and reliability at Europe’s spaceport are well known. In addition to its many European clients, the spaceport also undertakes launches for industries in the United States, Japan, Canada, India and Brazil.

To date, ESA has invested more than €1.6 billion to improving and further developing the ground facilities at Europe’s spaceport. ESA owns the special infrastructure built for the Ariane family of launchers: this includes launcher and satellite preparation buildings, launch operation facilities and a plant for making solid propellant.

Last update: 10 November 2010

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