Soyuz comes to the Spaceport
Preparations for Soyuz’ introduction at the Spaceport began in April 2004, as construction started on the massive ELS launch complex for this Russian-built workhorse medium-lift vehicle. With this new facility, the Spaceport’s operational area is extended northward along the French Guiana coast.
The ELS facility includes a launcher integration building (known by its Russian designation: MIK), launch control center, and the launch pad with its massive 149 meter-wide x 123 meter-long flame duct, as well as all the associated propellant facilities.
Maintaining the long-established processing flow used for Soyuz vehicles at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, launchers at the Spaceport are integrated horizontally in the MIK. This involves the mating of Soyuz’ first stage strap-on boosters to the Block A core second stage, followed by installation of the Block I third stage. The assembled Soyuz is then transferred horizontally by rail to the launch pad, where it is erected to the vertical position.
One of the Soyuz launch site’s distinctive features at the Spaceport is its purpose-built 52-meter-tall mobile service gantry, which enables payloads to be installed atop the Soyuz vehicle while in its vertical position — as is the practice in Arianespace operations and for other Western launchers. This represents a change from the horizontal Soyuz payload integration process at the Baikonur and Plesetsk Cosmodromes, with the gantry rolled into position on the launch pad — providing protection during payload installation and during final checkout of the vehicle. On launch day, the gantry is rolled back 80 meters to its parked position 1hr., 10 min. before the scheduled liftoff.
Soyuz entered service with Arianespace at the Spaceport in October 2011 with an on-target maiden flight that orbited the first two European Galileo navigation satellites. In preparation for the historic introduction of this longest-operating launcher to the world’s most modem launch base, a 1:1 scale exercise with a flight-like Soyuz vehicle was performed in April-May 2011 at the Spaceport that culminated in a highly realistic mission countdown going through all steps of preparing and fueling a fully-integrated Soyuz up to its simulated launch.