Final checks for first Soyuz launch from Kourou

October 20, 2011

Launch directors on Thursday were running through the last checks for the maiden liftoff of Soyuz, the legendary Soviet-Russian rocket, from Europe's base in French Guiana.

Soyuz is due to lift off at 7:34 a.m. (1034 GMT) on Thursday, carrying the first satellites in the , Europe's 5.4-billion-euro (7.2-billion-dollar) answer to the US (GPS).

The rocket's heritage can be traced to the dawn of the space race in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik. All told, its family has notched up 1,776 launches, with a success rate of more than 94 percent.

From Kourou, will be able to hoist 2.8 tonnes into geostationary transfer orbit, compared with 1.7 tonnes from Baikonur. The big difference in payload is explained by the extra push given by Earth's rotation at the Equator.

The first operational Galileo satellites, with a payload of 1.58 tonnes, will be placed in a circular orbit at an altitude of more than 23,000 kilometres (14,000 miles).

After a nine minute, 20 second flight that will see the rocket's three lower stages burn their fuel and fall away one by one, the "Fregat" upper stage should light up to take the satellites on their final leg, due to last three hours, 20 minutes.

Thursday's launch is the first under a 2003 deal to deploy the rocket beyond its bases in , in northern Russia, and Baikonur, in Kazakhstan.

The contract is designed to bring in revenue for Russia's and provide a dependable medium-weight lifter for satellite launch operator alongside the heavy , and a future lightweight rocket, the Vega.

Soyuz so far has orders for 14 launches from Kourou. Next year, it will take up the next two satellites in the Galileo constellation, which will comprise 30 satellites -- 27 in operation and three spares -- when it is completed in 2020.

Galileo should be accurate to within a metre (3.25 feet), whereas the US Global Positioning System (GPS), which became operational in 1995 and is being upgraded, is currently accurate to between three and eight metres (10 and 26 feet), according to official websites.

A site has been specially built for Soyuz 12 kilometres (eight miles) from the Ariane launchpad here. It includes a 52-metre (169-feet) -high gantry and the ability to be adapted for human spaceflight if need be.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is screening the launch live from 0930 GMT (www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMZOFFURTG_index_0.html).

Explore further: Delays seen for Soyuz, Vega launches at Europe's space base

Related Stories

Soyuz launch from Europe space base set for October

May 10, 2011

The maiden launch of the veteran Soviet-Russian rocket Soyuz from Europe's space base in South America has been scheduled for October, a spokesman for launch operators Arianespace said on Tuesday.

Galileo's Soyuz launchers arrive at French Guiana

June 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The two Soyuz launchers that will fly the first four satellites of Europe’s Galileo navigation system into orbit have arrived at Kourou harbour in French Guiana, completing a journey that took them halfway ...

Soyuz ready with Galileo satellites for milestone launch

October 14, 2011

International space cooperation will be highlighted in a historic event on 20 October: the launch of Europe’s first Galileo navigation satellites on Russia’s first Soyuz rocket to depart from Europe’s Spaceport ...

Recommended for you

Distant planet's interior chemistry may differ from our own

September 1, 2015

As astronomers continue finding new rocky planets around distant stars, high-pressure physicists are considering what the interiors of those planets might be like and how their chemistry could differ from that found on Earth. ...

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Interstellar seeds could create oases of life

August 27, 2015

We only have one example of a planet with life: Earth. But within the next generation, it should become possible to detect signs of life on planets orbiting distant stars. If we find alien life, new questions will arise. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.