Soyuz launch site
October 2011’s launch of the first two Galileo IOV satellites was a historic occasion in more ways than one, the first time that a Soyuz launcher lifted off from a spaceport other than Baikonur in Kazakhstan or Plesetsk in Russia.
Because French Guiana is so close to the equator each Soyuz launch benefits greatly from Earth’s spin, increasing the maximum payload to geostationary transfer orbit from 1.7 tonnes to three tonnes.
Geological and topographic surveys began at the site selected for Soyuz in 2003. The site, known as Ensemble de Lancement Soyuz, or ELS for short, is 13 km northwest of the Ariane launch site.
The launch site is almost identical to the other Soyuz sites in Kazakhstan and Russia, although adapted to conform to European safety regulations.
The site consists of three main zones: the launch platform, the preparation area (known in Russian as монтажно-испытательный корпус; montazhno-ispytatelniy korpus, or MIK), where the three stages will be assembled horizontally and checked, and the launch control centre.
The MIK is connected to the launch platform by a 700-metre railway, A which is used to transport the launcher in a horizontal position. The launch control centre is one kilometre from the launch pad.
The most visible difference is the 45 m-tall mobile gantry, which provides a protected environment as the payloads, starting with the Galileo IOV satellites, are installed on the vertical launcher. Its internal movable work platforms provide access to the Soyuz at various levels.
Its total height is 45 m to the top of its curved roof, and its internal movable work platforms provide access to the launcher at various levels up to a height of 36 m. The gantry is a comparatively lightweight structure: about 800 tonnes.
The gantry provides a protected environment for the installation of payloads, as well as for the checkout of fully-integrated vehicles. Its parked position is 80 m from the launch platform.
The Soyuz launch site is operated by Arianespace, and was already fully qualified for all activities short of actually launch before the initial 21 October Galileo IOV flight.
Last update: 20 July 2012