June 3, 2022

Soyouz launch complex

Because Soyuz technology is very different from Ariane, it has its own launch facilities. The Soyuz launch complex, the ELS, is now non-operational. After 27 launches since 2011, the operation of the Russian launcher at the GSC was stopped in March 2022, two years ahead of schedule, following the Russian authorities’ decision to suspend cooperation with Europe as a result of the war in Ukraine.
Zone de lancement Soyouz lors du 1er lancement au CSG

Located 18 km from Sinnamary, and about 13 km from the Ariane facilities, the Soyuz launch complex includes all the facilities required for the assembly and launch of Soyuz

The Soyuz launch complex consists of two zones: a launcher preparation zone (with buildings for assembling and filling the launcher stages, technical buildings and a launch centre to supervise the operations) and a launch zone. The Soyuz launch centre (CDLS) also has storage spaces for liquid oxygen and kerosene, the launcher’s fuels.

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Launcher Assembly Building

Known as MIK from its name in Russian, this building houses the Soyuz launcher assembly operations. Unlike Ariane 5 or Vega, a major part of Soyuz is assembled horizontally. It is then moved to the launch zone and erected vertically. Only then are the satellite and fairing mounted on top of the launcher.

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FCube filling building

Inaugurated in 2016, this building is where the Soyuz Fregat stage is filled with fuel and oxidiser.  This represents a time saving of one week in the preparation of the launcher. Previously, these filling operations took place at the satellite preparation complex S3, where the upper part of the launcher is still assembled.

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Launch zone

This is the launch pad from which Soyuz is launched. This is where Soyuz is erected vertically. The Fregat stage, the satellites and the fairing are then mounted on the launcher. It is also in the launch zone that the boosters are filled with oxygen and kerosene. These operations are carried out inside the mobile gantry, which surrounds the launcher once it is vertical and then retracts shortly before lift-off.


The gantry that makes all the difference

While the Soyuz launch complex is almost a carbon copy of the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, it has one notable difference: its gantry. It replaces a system of narrow open-air walkways used in Baikonur and which are not compliant with the European legislation. It protects the launcher and facilitates the work of the operators during the final assembly operations.

History and design

Key dates of the Soyuz project

  • June 2002: ESA Council decides to open the GSC to the Russian Soyuz launcher
  • September 2002 to July 2003: preliminary design study, pre-funded by France, jointly by CNES, Arianespace and Starsem, the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Russian companies TsSKB Progress, KBOM and NPO-Lavochkin.
  • November 2003: signing of an intergovernmental agreement, confirming the willingness of France and the Russian Federation to allow commercial Soyuz launches from French Guiana.
  • February 2004: ESA Council meeting, following which six ESA members (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland) participate in this programme based on joint funding with the European Union.
  • December 2004: ESA Council meeting and finalisation of the funding and decision on the effective start of the programme.
  • February 2007: start of the Soyuz construction project in French Guiana
  • October 2011: Maiden Soyuz launch from the Guiana Space Centre
  • July 2016: commissioning of the FCube filling building

2reasons for choosing Sinnamary

  • Its ground has a granite substrate near the surface, which reduces the need for concrete constructions to build the launch zone.
  • Il est éloigné des ensembles de lancement de Vega et d'Ariane 5. Il est donc moins affecté par les contraintes liées aux opérations sur ces sites.
Vue aérienne du chantier Soyouz au CSG lors de sa construction en 2009
Vue aérienne du chantier Soyouz au CSG en 2009
 Aerial view of the Soyuz construction site at the GSC in 2009

History under the rockets

Prior to the start of the Soyuz construction project, preventive archaeological excavations were carried out on the sites being used. They brought to light two important Amerindian sites: one testifies to human presence in the Meso-Indian period (6,000 years ago), and the other, more recent, documents the first contacts between Amerindians and Europeans between the 17th and 19th centuries. The objects discovered then, as well as those unearthed during the excavations on the Ariane 6 site, have been on display in an exhibition organised with Inrap since 2019.

 Archaeological excavations on the Soyuz site Credits: Credits: R. Le Guen - 2005

Virtual tour of the Soyuz launcher assembly building, the MIK: https://static.zooomez.fr/medias/csg/mik/

Virtual tour of the Soyuz launch centre: https://static.zooomez.fr/medias/csg/cdl-s/

Virtual tour of the Soyuz launch zonehttp://static.zooomez.fr/medias/csg/zls/