February 27, 2007

Spirit of Gagarin hovers over French Guiana as Soyuz launch pad breaks ground

A symbolic and important milestone has been reached on the road to the arrival of the mythical Russian Soyuz launcher in French Guiana. Numerous VIPs and representatives from CNES, ESA, Arianespace and the Russian space agency Roskosmos were at a ceremony to break ground for the new launch pad.
27 February 2007

"Culmination of a magnificent partnership project"

Late 2008, the famous Russian launcher will make its 1st flight from a facility other than Plessetsk or Baikonur, an event of unprecedented significance in the history of space launcher cooperation between Europe and Russia “This signals the start of a new era for launchers in Europe,” said ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain.

For CNES President Yannick d’Escatha, Soyuz in Guiana is “a magnificent joint project, the culmination of France and Russia’s partnership in space over the last 40 years.”

Soyuz is a medium-lift launcher that will fill the gap between the Ariane 5 heavy-lift and Vega light launchers, thus rounding out Europe’s range of launch vehicles.

With these 3 launchers, commercial operator Arianespace will be able to offer customers a full spectrum of launch services for all kinds of missions.

“This marks a new step in the great adventure that began 10 years ago […] and will be a key asset for our customers, shareholders and partners,” said Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall.

Soyuz in Guiana - Animation. Crédits : CNES

Laying of the Gagarin stone

Soyuz traces its lineage back to the Semyorka rocket developed in the 1950s, the workhorse launcher that sent Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin—the 1st man-made satellite and the 1st astronaut—into space.
So the strategic, technical and economic importance of this event was clearly apparent when the veil was lifted 26 February on the commemorative plaque at the entrance to the launch pad construction site.

The official groundbreaking ceremony was attended by many VIPs, including a 30-strong Russian delegation. Construction work at the French Guiana site has already been underway for several months, with the 1st Russian teams who will be erecting the launch pad’s metal infrastructures scheduled to arrive in Sinnamary by year end.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, a stone from the launch pad where Yuri Gagarin was lofted into space in 1961 was laid at the new site. After the 40th anniversary of French-Russian cooperation in 2006 and the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the space era this year, this “Gagarin stone” symbolizes the future of a cooperative endeavour built on a solid heritage.

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