In 1964 the French Government chose Kourou, from 14 other sites, as a base for launching satellites. When ESA came into being in 1975, the French Government offered to share its Centre Spatial Guyanais with the Agency.
To date, ESA has invested more than €1.6 billion in improving and developing the ground facilities.
Geological and topographic surveys began at the site selected for Soyuz in 2003. The site is known as Ensemble de Lancement Soyuz – or ELS for short.
The launch area 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 are assembled horizontally and checked, and the launch control centre.
The MIK is connected to the launch pad by a 700 m-long railway, which is used to transport the vehicle in a horizontal position. The launch control centre is a kilometre from the pad.
A 45 m-tall mobile gantry provides a protected environment as the payloads are installed on the vertical launcher. Its internal movable work platforms provide access to the Soyuz at various levels.