Soyuz liftoff

Soyuz launcher

The first pair of Galileo IOV satellites were the first payloads flown by Russia’s Soyuz rocket from its new launch site at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 21 October 2011. The second pair launched in the same way just under a year later, on 12 October 2012.

The Soyuz launcher is the workhorse of the Russian space programme, in continuous production since the 1960s, and a descendant in design terms of the R-7 rocket that launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, inaugurating the Space Age.

Soyuz has performed more than 1,700 manned and unmanned missions. It is designed to extremely high reliability levels for its use in manned missions – today supporting operations of the International Space Station.

As a medium-class launcher, bringing Soyuz to French Guiana complements Ariane and Vega to enhance the flexibility and competitiveness of Europe’s launcher family.

Soyuz rockets on transport ship
Soyuz ST-B launchers at Kourou harbour

For French Guiana launches, this three-stage rocket (plus Fregat upper stage) is assembled horizontally in the traditional Russian approach, then moved to the vertical so that its payload can be mated from above in the standard European way.

A new mobile launch gantry aids this process, while also protecting the satellites and the launcher from the humid tropical environment.

For Galileo, a specially-designed dispenser holds the two IOV satellites in place side-by-side during launch and then releases them sideways into their final orbits.

Soyuz on launch pad
Soyuz on launch pad

The more powerful Soyuz-ST configuration will be the standard version launched from French Guiana: the more powerful Soyuz ST-B variant, including a Fregat-MT upper stage is the one used to deliver the Galileo IOV satellites into their final circular 23 222 km orbit.

The reignitable Fregat was previously used in its baseline version to deliver ESA’s GIOVE-A and -B experimental satellites. Fregat-MT carries an additional 900 kg of propellant.

The second pair of Galileo IOV satellites will be launched in the same way in October 2012.

Last update: 13 October 2012

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