Official opening of the Soyuz launch base construction site in French Guiana

The ceremony took place in the presence of many French authorities and representatives of all the European and Russian entities contributing to the startup of the project.

On this occasion, a commemorative plaque was unveiled and a stone from the Baikonur launch pad from which the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin took off in 1961 was deposited on the site. This stone is a powerful symbol of the continuity between the Russian launch site, which saw the start of the space age with Sputnik followed by the first human space flight, and the setting-up of a Soyuz launch operation in French Guiana. The arrival of Soyuz marks the culmination of 40 years of space cooperation between France and Russia, a decade of industrial cooperation in the Starsem framework, and the longstanding cooperation between ESA and Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

Soyuz, renowned for its legendary exploits in space exploration, has been launched 1713 times so far, thus demonstrating both its robustness and reliability. It has to date placed 1661 satellites in orbit around the Earth and sent 91 Russian and 40 non-Russian cosmonauts into space.

Launching Soyuz from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG) will make it possible to use French Guiana’s equatorial position to significantly increase the launcher's lift capability. After an inaugural flight at the end of 2008, Soyuz will launch communication satellites into geostationary orbit, navigation satellites forming part of the European Galileo constellation, Earth observation satellites into polar orbit, and interplanetary probes. Soyuz at the CSG, alongside the Ariane 5 heavy-lift launcher and Europe's small Vega launcher, will harmoniously complete the range of ESA launchers. Their exploitation is handled by Arianespace, which will be able to offer launch services for all types of mission.

This project is being co-funded by ESA, the European Union and Arianespace and carried out with CNES as system prime contractor, in the framework of an ESA programme. Although the site is being officially opened today, excavation work was begun several months ago by the French firm VINCI with the help of numerous European and local firms; the first Russian teams are due to arrive at Sinnamary between now and the end of the year to build the launch and functional support infrastructure for the launch pad.

As Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency, said: “We are entering a new era for launchers for Europe, which is the positive outcome of good cooperation between ESA and Russia, initiated by France, and which will enhance the launch flexibility offered by Arianespace.”

Yannik d’Escatha, President of CNES, observed that: “The continuous relationship developed in the space domain between France and Russia over the last 40 years and its extension to cooperation on launchers as from 1996 has led today to this tremendous joint project between Europe and Russia: Soyuz at the CSG. With the construction work on this launch site at the Guiana Space Centre, Europe's Spaceport, the link that has been developed will now be very much a tangible one on French territory, for ESA, for decades to come.”

Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, said that: “Soyuz at the CSG is a new phase in the amazing undertaking begun 10 years ago by Europe and Russia within Starsem. Soyuz at the CSG will be a great asset for Arianespace's commercial strategy and will greatly benefit our customers, shareholders and partners.”

As Anatoly Perminov, Head of Roscosmos, put it: “We can clearly see today that the most ambitious projects, such as this construction of the Soyuz launch pad at the CSG, cannot be carried out by a single entity. It is only through the joint efforts of Europe, Russia and France that such a bold ambition is becoming a tangible reality before our very eyes. This mutually beneficial cooperation provides a guarantee that the future exploration of space can only be for peaceful purposes and that it will always be in line with the aspirations of humanity at large.”

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