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The introduction of Soyuz missions from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana brings the industry's longest-operating launcher to the world's most modern launch base.

Arianespace flights with the medium-lift Soyuz began from the Spaceport in 2011, and now join the ongoing operations of Arianespace's heavy-lift Ariane 5, and the lightweight Vega vehicle – which entered service in French Guiana in 2012.

Soyuz launchers flown from the Spaceport are evolved versions that include an updated digital flight control system, an increased-performance third stage and the larger Soyuz ST payload fairing.

The startup of Arianespace’s Soyuz missions from French Guiana opened a new chapter in the history of this robust vehicle, which introduced the space age with the launch of Sputnik – the world's first satellite – in 1957. Since then, Soyuz has been in continuous production, demonstrating its unmatched reliability with more than 1,800 manned and unmanned missions performed to date.

Soyuz is a four-stage launch vehicle, and is designed to extremely high reliability levels for its use in manned missions – which today support operations of the International Space Station. 

Similar first and second stages

The Soyuz’ first stage is composed of four boosters that are assembled around the launcher’s central core.  These boosters are tapered cylinders, with the oxidizer tank carried in the tapered portion and the kerosene tank installed in the cylindrical section.  The boosters’ RD-107A engines are powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene – the same propellants used on each of the Soyuz’ three main stages. Each engine has four combustion chambers and nozzles. Three-axis flight control is carried out by aerofins (one per booster) and movable vernier thrusters (two per booster).

Following liftoff, the first-stage’s boosters burn for approximately 118 seconds and are then jettisoned. Thrust is transferred through a ball joint located at the top of the boosters’ cone-shaped structure, which is attached to the central core by two rear struts.

The Soyuz vehicle’s central core second-stage is similar in construction to the four first-stage boosters, but with a special shape to accommodate the boosters’ integration around it.  A stiffening ring is located at the interface between the boosters and the core stage.

Propulsion for the second stage is provided by a RD-108A engine with four combustion chambers and nozzles, along with four vernier thrusters. This core stage nominally burns for 286 seconds, and its verniers are used for three-axis flight control once the Soyuz’ first stage boosters have separated.  

Both the second stage central core and first stage boosters are ignited 20 seconds before liftoff, and they initially operate at an intermediate level of thrust in order to monitor engine health parameters.  The engines are then gradually throttled up, until the launcher develops sufficient thrust for liftoff.

Multiple options for Soyuz third stage at the Spaceport

Arianespace operates two different third stages for its missions from the Spaceport in French Guiana. The Soyuz ST-A launcher uses and RD-0110 engine in its third stage, while the Soyuz ST-B features and upgraded RD-0124 engine.  Both Soyuz versions have been used for successful missions from the Guiana Space Center.

The Soyuz’ centerline third stage is linked to the Soyuz launcher’s central core by a latticework structure.  Ignition of the third stage's main engine occurs approximately two seconds before shutdown of the launcher’s central core. The third stage engine's thrust directly separates the stage from the central core.

The Soyuz ST-A launcher uses a powerful RD-0110 engine with four combustion chambers and four nozzles.  For the enhanced Soyuz ST-B version operated by Arianespace from the Spaceport in French Guiana, the third stage utilizes an RD-0124 engine.  It adds an additional 34 seconds of specific impulse (Isp) compared to the RD-0110 version, to significantly increase the vehicle’s overall launch performance.

The RD-0124 is a staged-combustion engine powered by a multi-stage turbopump, which is spun by gas from combustion of the main propellants in a gas generator. These oxygen-rich combustion gases are recovered to feed the four main combustion chambers where kerosene – coming from the regenerative cooling circuit – is injected. Attitude control is provided by main engine activation along one axis in two planes. Liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene tanks are pressurized by the heating and evaporation of helium coming from storage vessels located in the LOX tank.

Avionics for the Soyuz launcher are carried in the vehicle’s third stage, and are located in an intermediate bay between the oxidizer and fuel tanks.  As part of the Soyuz’ upgrades for its operations from the Spaceport, the launcher’s flight control system is modernized with a digital control system.  This system incorporates a digital computer and inertial measurement unit that are based on proven technology – giving the Soyuz improved navigation accuracy and control capability.

The new digital control system provides a more flexible and efficient attitude control system, and it gives the additional flight control authority required when the new, enlarged Soyuz ST payload fairing is installed on the vehicle.  In addition, it improves flight accuracy for the Soyuz' first three stages, and provides the ability to perform in-flight roll maneuvers as well as in-plane yaw steering (dog-leg) maneuvers.

Restart capability with the Fregat upper stage

Soyuz’ Fregat upper stage is an autonomous and flexible upper stage designed to operate as an orbital vehicle.  Flight qualified in 2000, it extends the Soyuz launcher’s capability to provide access to a full range of orbits (medium-Earth orbit, Sun-synchronous orbit, geostationary transfer orbit, and Earth escape trajectories).

To ensure high reliability for the Fregat stage right from the outset, various flight-proven subsystems and components from previous spacecraft and rockets are used. The upper stage consists of six spherical tanks (four for propellants, two for avionics) arrayed in a circle and welded together. A set of eight struts through the tanks provide an attachment point for the payload, and also transfer thrust loads to the launcher. The upper stage is independent from the lower three stages, since Fregat has its own guidance, navigation, attitude control, tracking, and telemetry systems.

The Fregat uses storable propellants (UDMH/NTO) and can be restarted up to 20 times in flight – enabling it to carry out complex mission profiles. It can provide three-axis or spin stabilization of the spacecraft payload.

Payload fairing for a full range of spacecraft passengers

An enlarged payload fairing is one of the most visible changes for improved Soyuz launchers to be operated from the Spaceport.  It is based on the proven configuration used for Arianespace’s Ariane 4 vehicles, with its length increased by approximately one additional meter. 

The new Soyuz fairing has a diameter of 4.11 meters and an overall length of 11.4 meters – enabling it to accommodate the full range of payloads in the launch vehicle’s performance category.

Constellation dispensers and auxiliary platforms for “piggyback” passengers

To further enhance Soyuz’ capability to accommodate a range of satellites, a number of dispenser systems were developed – and have been proven in flight.

With Europe’s Galileo navigation satellites, a dispenser system developed for Arianespace by RUAG Space Sweden carries two of the spacecraft side-by-side under the Soyuz payload fairing.  This dispenser fires a pyrotechnic separation system to simultaneously release the two satellites in opposite directions.  Its first use was on Soyuz’ October 2011 maiden flight from the Spaceport.

A larger dispenser that accommodates multiple trapezoidal-shaped spacecraft is produced by Astrium for Soyuz missions.  It was used to orbit clusters of six Globalstar mobile communications satellites on Soyuz launches performed by the Arianespace Starsem affiliate from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  On those flights, the dual-segment conical-shaped dispenser is designed to accommodate two of the six satellites on its upper section, with their release occurring at 98.6 minutes into the flight.  The other four payloads were installed on the dispenser’s lower section and separated simultaneously 1.67 minutes later, completing the missions’ deployment sequence.

This dispenser concept also is being utilized for Arianespace’s Soyuz launches from the Spaceport that carry four O3b Networks connectivity satellites.  For this application, the dispenser’s lower segment is employed – accommodating the spacecraft that are clustered around the tube and secured by top and bottom attach points.

Arianespace further enhanced the Soyuz mission flexibility with its development of a structure to accommodate small secondary payloads.  Called the ASAP-S, this system continues the ASAP auxiliary platform concept previously developed for missions with members of the Ariane family, which have enabled “piggyback” passengers to be flown for the past 20-plus years.

The ASAP-S system for Soyuz has external positions for four micro-satellites, along with volume inside the center structure for a fifth payload. The ASAP-S' external configuration accommodates spacecraft weighing up to 200 kg., while the internal position is designed to accept a payload with a maximum mass of 400 kg. 

Arianespace’s initial use of the ASAP-S was on Soyuz’ second flight from the Spaceport, performed in December 2011, which carried the French CNES space agency’s Pleiades optical Earth observation satellite, along with four French Elisa micro-satellites for electronic intelligence gathering (ELINT), and the Chilean SSOT (Sistema satelital de Observación de la Tierra) optical satellite for civilian and defense Earth observation.

In the photo at left, the dispenser for Soyuz missions with Galileo satellites performed from the Spaceport carries its two payloads in a side-by-side arrangement. In preparations at Baikonur Cosmodrome, the dispenser with six Globalstar satellites (center left) is raised into the vertical position for payload fairing encapsulation. The first of four O3b Networks satellites is integrated on its dispenser system (center right) in preparations for Arianespace’s first mission for this connectivity operator from the Spaceport. At right, ASAP-S multi-payload support system with its auxiliary passengers and the primary Pléiades 1 satellite is shown prior to encapsulation for Arianespace’s no. 2 Soyuz mission from the Spaceport.