May 21, 2009

Soyuz Rockets Complete And Ready For South American Launch

Construction has been completed on the first Russian Soyuz rockets scheduled to launch from South America, Russian Soyuz maker reported Thursday.

"The first two rockets are ready. They have got through all the tests and have been placed in the containers in which they will be delivered," a report by ITAR-TASS quoted Sergei Tyulevin, the deputy head of TsSKB-Progress, as saying.

The updated Soyuz-ST rockets will be delivered in September, and will launch December 28 from French Guiana, a department of France located on South America's north coast, Tyulevin said.

The launch will be conducted in cooperation with the European Space Agency, which provides two-thirds of the funding for the main launch site on French Guiana, named Kourou.

The move to French Guiana is a significant step for Russia, which until now had mainly depended upon the Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan.

Launching Russian Soyuz rockets in such close proximity to the United States will likely send a powerful message about Russia's continued role in space.  Additionally, it gives Russia other advantages, such as reducing its dependence on Baikonur, which has been the subject of periodic scuffles with Kazakh authorities.

French Guiana's proximity to the equator also allows for heavier payloads, since launches can gain additional momentum from the spinning motion of the Earth.

Tyulevin said TsSKB-Progress was under contract to build 10 rockets for launch from French Guiana, four of which will be delivered next year.


Image Caption: Artist view of a Soyuz/ST lifting off from the launch zone of the Soyuz Launch Complex (ELS), of the Guiana Space Centre (CSG), Europe's spaceport near Kourou, French Guiana. Soyuz launchers will be processed horizontally and erected on the pad some 18 hours before liftoff.