Following a successful conclusion to their ‘dry run’ test of their new Soyuz launch facility at Kourou, French Guiana, Arianespace have declared themselves ready to launch their first unmanned Soyuz launch vehicle as early as the 3rd quarter of 2011. The exercise, which took place between April 29th and May 5th of 2011, involved a full assembly, roll-out to pad, payload integration and simulated launch. Arianespace had hoped to fly a Soyuz commercial launch this summer, but subsequently decided to wait for the launch of a pair of Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites.
The Soyuz 2.1b platform will provide unmanned medium-lift capability for Arianespace, supplementing it’s already proven and robust Ariane 5 heavy-lift platform and joining their capabilities alongside the small multistage Vega system. This broad range of capability places Arianespace as one of the worlds leading commercial space operators. Although initially intended as an unmanned launch facility, the Kourou Soyuz facility has been constructed to facilitate human-rated launches should the need arise in the future.
The Galileo satellite navigation system, two of the parts of which are scheduled to launch on Soyuz from Kourou in October, is a joint project between the European Union and European Space Agency (ESA) will be used to enhance satellite navigation in European countries and provide Europe with an independent system not dependant on existing US and Russian military GPS systems, which can be blocked from commercial use during times of conflict.
More information on Ariancespace’s Soyuz launch facilities are available at: