Liftoff from South America

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For the last 30 years, all of Europe’s rockets have been launched from Kourou in South America. Why did Europe choose a spaceport on the other side of the world?

The search for a new site began in the 1960s, when France had to give up its launch base in the Algerian desert.

The French Space Agency eventually chose a coastal spot on the edge of the jungle in French Guiana. The new site was close to a fishing village called Kourou and not far from the old prison settlement on Devil’s Island.

Kourou was thousands of kilometres from Europe, and everything had to be built from scratch. However, it had several key advantages:

  • launches would take place well away from large built-up areas
  • rockets could be safely launched over the open sea to the east and the north
  • spent rocket stages would fall harmlessly into the ocean
  • satellites could easily be sent into both polar and equatorial orbits.

Europe's Spaceport is also very close to the equator. It benefits from the sling shot effect caused by Earth’s rapid rotation at the equator. This gives a free boost of 1650 km/h toward the east for any rockets launched nearby. This cuts the amount of fuel they need to carry and enables them to lift heavier satellites.

Last modified 12 October 2011