Russian Soyuz Poised for 1st Blastoff from Europe’s New South American Spaceport


A Russian Soyuz-2 rocket sits poised for its first ever blast off in less than 24 hours from a brand new launch pad built in the jungles of French Guiana, South America by the European Space Agency (ESA) .

The payload for the debut liftoff of the Soyuz ST-B booster consists of the first pair of operational Galilieo satellites, critical to Europe’s hopes for building an independent GPS navigation system in orbit.

Soyuz VS01, the first Soyuz flight from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, will lift off on 20 October 2011. The rocket will carry the first two satellites of Europe’s Galileo navigation system into orbit. Credit:ESA - S. Corvaja

The Soyuz VS01 mission is set to soar on Thursday, Oct. 20 at 6:34 a.m. EDT (1034 GMT ) from Europe’s new South American pad, specially built for the Soyuz rocket. The three stage rocket was rolled out 600 meters horizontally to the launch pad and vertically raised to its launch position.

Soyuz VS01 on launch pad. Soyuz VS01vehicle was rolled out horizontally on its erector from the preparation building to the launch zone and then raised into the vertical position. The ‘Upper Composite’, comprising the Fregat upper stage, payload and fairing, was also transferred and added onto the vehicle from above, completing the very first Soyuz on its launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport. Soyuz VS01 will lift off on 20 October 2011. The rocket will carry the first two satellites of Europe’s Galileo navigation system into orbit. Credit: ESA - S. Corvaja

The two Galileo satellites were mated to the Fregat-MT upper stage, enclosed inside their payload fairing and then hoisted atop the Soyuz rocket. They should seperate from the upper stage about 3.5 hous after launch.

Because French Guiana is so close to the equator, the Soyuz gains a significant boost in performance from 1.7 tons to 3 tons due to the Earth’s greater spin.

This marks the first time in history that the renowned Soyuz workhorse will blast off from outside of Kazakhstan or Russia and also the start of orbital construction of Europe’s constellation of 30 Gallileo satellites.

28 more of the navigation satellites, built by the EADS consortium based in Germany, will be lofted starting in 2012 aboard the medium class Soyuz rockets.

French Guiana is already home to Europe’s venerable Ariane rocket family and will soon expand further to include the new Vega rocket for smaller class satellites.

ESA will begin live streaming coverage starting about an hour before the planned launch time of 6:34 a.m. EDT (1034 GMT)

Soyuz VS01 poised for launch on Oct. 20, 2011. Credit: ESA - S. Corvaja