Soyuz & Vega at the Spaceport
The Spaceport is readied for Soyuz' first flight later this year
April 15, 2010
The new Soyuz launch site in French Guiana is entering its final phase of preparations, with qualification testing of the facility’s infrastructure now underway and the construction of its 50-meter-tall mobile gantry well advanced. The inaugural flight for Arianespace’s newest addition to its launch vehicle family is anticipated in September, carrying the Avanti Communications Group’s HYLAS 1 broadband communications satellite as its payload.
Current technical qualification testing at the Soyuz facility includes validation of its launch site’s mechanical elements, such as the launch system umbilical arms and vehicles used for fueling of the Soyuz. Also being tested is the distribution network for the various gases used during a launch campaign, including air for ventilation of the launch vehicle and its payload, along with nitrogen and helium.
“We will be performing some 10 different qualification test campaigns to verify that each system works in its own element,” explained Bruno Gerard, Arianespace’s project head for Soyuz at the Spaceport. “These campaigns will continue for the next several months, and will be followed by operational testing, which will use an actual launch vehicle to validate that everything works together.”
In parallel activity, the Soyuz mobile gantry is nearing completion of its metal structural framework build-up. The gantry has now risen to a height of 39 meters, and ultimately will top out at over 50 meters when its roof is added. Once the framework is completed, the gantry then will receive its external metallic covering, and also be outfitted with mission support equipment, as well as the internal movable work platforms that provide access to Soyuz at various levels up to a height of 36 meters.
The gantry is one of the major differences at the Spaceport’s new home for Soyuz when compared
to the workhorse vehicle’s long-existing launch sites at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.
It allows for the vertical installation of payloads on the launch vehicle – which is typical in Western operations, rather than the horizontal procedures used in Soyuz operations from the Baikonur and Plesetsk Cosmodromes. The gantry also provides a protected environment for the launcher, and enables customer access to the payload when required prior to final countdown.
Construction of the gantry is managed by the French CNES space agency (which oversees operations and infrastructure at the Spaceport), and includes Rheinmetall Italy, along with the KBOM General Engineering Design Bureau and MIR – two of the Russian companies involved in developing the new Soyuz launch site.