June 6, 2022

Soyouz

After 27 launches since 2011, the operation of the Russian Soyuz launcher at the Guiana Space Centre 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.

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A launcher to complement Ariane 5 and Vega

Soyuz in French Guiana was the result of a partnership between Russia and Europe, and offered customers a launcher to carry satellites smaller than those launched by Ariane 5 and larger than those launched by Vega. From the GSC, the Russian launcher can send satellites of up to 3 tonnes into geostationary orbit (36,000 km altitude) and 5 tonnes into low Earth orbit (between 300 and 1,000 km).

A flexible launcher

Soyuz has carried out a variety of missions from the GSC, to geostationary, medium or sun-synchronous orbits. Several Soyuz launches have been used to carry scientific satellites. These include:

  • CHEOPS (launched in 2019) which studies exoplanets in detail
  • MetOp (2018), which has more than a dozen meteorological instruments to monitor the climate
  • Gaia (2013), which aims to map more than a billion stars in 3D
  • Pleiades (2011 and 2012), which provides very high resolution images of the Earth.
  • Galileo (9 launches from 2011 to 2021), the European navigation system, more accurate than GPS
Érection de Soyouz en zone de lancement

Did you know ?

In Russian, Soyuz means “union”

Soyuz, a monument of space history

The Soyuz launcher has existed since the beginning of the space adventure. It launched the first Sputnik satellite in 1957 and carried Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space in 1961.  It usually lifts off from the base in Baikonur (Kazakhstan) or in Plesetsk and Vostochny (Russia). With more than 1,850 launches and a failure rate of less than 3 %, Soyuz is the most reliable launcher in the world. Today, Soyuz is used for manned and unmanned flights to the International Space Station and for commercial flights.

Soyouz in figures

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Technical specifications

Soyuz is a medium-class launcher compared to the other GSC launchers, Ariane 5 and Vega. It weighs 308 tonnes at lift-off, while Ariane 5 weighs 780 tonnes and Vega 138 tonnes. It consists of a core body of three stages surrounded by four thrusters.

Les différents éléments du lanceur Soyouz
Structure du lanceur Soyouz

The first stage consists of the four boosters (called blocks B, G, V, D). These boosters propel the launcher into the sky. Each thruster is equipped with an engine that runs on liquid oxygen and kerosene.

Like the boosters, the second and third stages use liquid oxygen and kerosene.

The vehicle equipment bay is the launcher's electronic brain. It houses Soyuz’s monitoring and guidance system.

The Fregat upper stage uses a different fuel from the other stages: nitrogen tetroxide and UDMH, also called dimethylhydrazine. It can be stopped out and re-ignited several times to adjust the launcher's trajectory to its mission.

The fairing is the top end of the launcher. It protects the satellites that are placed inside.

More information on the launcher on the dedicated CNES website.

A launcher adapted to French Guiana

To enable Soyuz to lift off from the GSC, Roscosmos and European Space Agency teams made a few adaptations to the original Russian launcher by:

  • taking the trajectories from French Guiana into account and making associated changes to the flight software;
  • taking the natural environment in French Guiana into account;
  • integrating on-board equipment (transponders, receivers, antennas) to track the launcher in flight by radar and to receive, process and report orders from the ground;
  • taking the French Space Operations Act (LOS) into account.

Soyuz carries larger satellites from French Guiana

By lifting off from the GSC, Soyuz can increase its capacity to lift to geostationary transfer orbit. Because Guiana is closer to the equator - where the speed of the Earth is the greatest - the launcher benefits from an extra “thrust”, allowing it to carry larger satellites with less fuel. With an identical configuration, a Soyuz carrying a mass of 3 tonnes from the GSC will only be able to carry 1.7 tonnes from Baikonur.

launcher preparation

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Arrival of launcher components

As with Ariane 5 and Vega, the Soyuz components arrive in French Guiana by ship. Unloaded at the Pariacabo port in Kourou, they are then transported to the Soyuz launch complex and its assembly building, the MIK.

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Assembly

In the Soyuz assembly building, the launcher takes shape: stages 1, 2 and 3 are assembled to form the lower part of the launcher, the tri-stage.

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Roll-out to the launch zone

The tri-stage launcher is transported to the launch zone. As in Russia, it is customary at the GSC to accompany the launcher during this transfer between the assembly building and the launch zone. Once it has arrived, the launcher is hoisted to a vertical position. The countdown begins: Soyuz cannot remain in a vertical position for more than 10 days. Its mobile gantry crane then moves closer, so that further preparation operations can be carried out.

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Fregat stage filling and assembly of the fairing

While the lower part of the launcher is being assembled, the Fregat, which is the upper stage, is filled with propellants. This operation takes place in a dedicated building, the FCube (Fregat Fuelling Facility). The Fregat stage is then assembled with the satellites and the fairing in the GSC clean rooms: the upper part of the launcher is ready. It is then transported to the launch zone.

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final assembly

The upper part of Soyuz is transported to the launch zone. Under the gantry, it is assembled onto the launcher. It consists of the Fregat stage and the satellites under the fairing and is mounted at the top of the launcher.

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filling

Five hours before lift-off, filling of the tri-stage launcher with propellants begins. This operation takes place only if all the launch conditions are met: once the first drop of kerosene has been injected into the Soyuz tank, there are only 52 hours left to carry out the launch.

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lift-off!

At launch time, if all conditions are met, the tri-stage is ignited. The arms holding Soyuz open outward to release the launcher: the mission begins.

Flight sequence

Soyuz ignition

At lift-off time, the first and second stages of the launcher are ignited. The arms that maintain Soyuz on its launch pad open outward to allow the launcher to lift off.

Stage separation

After about two minutes of flight, the four boosters separate from the launcher and move away from it. Less than two minutes later, the fairing is ejected, as the low density of the atmosphere no longer poses a risk to the satellite. After more than four minutes of flight, it is the turn of the second stage to be jettisoned. The third stage then starts up and consumes its fuel in about five minutes before separating in turn.

Entry into orbit and end of mission

Once the first three stages have separated from the launcher, Soyuz consists only of the Fregat stage and its satellite(s). The Fregat is re-ignitable, and can alternate between the thrust phases and the ballistic phases (without engine thrust) in order to find the optimum trajectory.

Once the satellites have been put into orbit, the Fregat stage deorbits to avoid the accumulation of space debris in orbit.

launch facilities

Infrastructure for Soyuz

To prepare and launch Soyuz from the Guiana Space Centre, the launcher has its own facilities. They are located in the Soyuz launch complex, in the town of Sinnamary.

launch History

Flight  name
DatePayloadTarget orbit
Mission status
VS0121/10/2011Galileo IOV PFM + Galileo IOV FM2MoyenneSuccès
VS0217/12/2011Pléiades 1 A + SSOT + Elisa (4 satellites)HéliosynchroneSuccès
VS0312/10/2012Galileo IOV FM3 + Galileo IOV FM4MoyenneSuccès
VS0402/12/2012Pléiades 1BHéliosynchroneSuccès
VS0525/06/2013O3b F1 (4 satellites)MoyenneSuccès
VS0619/12/2013GaiaPoint de Lagrange 2Succès
VS0703/04/2014Sentinel-1AHéliosynchroneSuccès
VS0810/07/2014O3b F2 (4 satellites)MoyenneÉchec partiel
VS0922/08/2014Galileo FOC FM1 + Galileo FOC FM2MoyenneSuccès
VS1018/12/2014O3b F13 (4 satellites)MoyenneSuccès
VS1127/03/2015Galileo FOC FM3 + Galileo FOC FM4MoyenneSuccès
VS1211/09/2015Galileo FOC FM5 + Galileo FOC FM6MoyenneSuccès
VS1317/12/2015Galileo FOC FM7 + Galileo FOC FM8MoyenneSuccès
VS1425/04/2016Sentinel-1B + Microscope + 3 micro-satellitesHéliosynchroneSuccès
VS1524/05/2016Galileo FOC FM9 + Galileo FOC FM10MoyenneSuccès
VS1628/01/2017Hispasat 36W-1GéostationnaireSuccès
VS1718/05/2017SES-15GéostationnaireSuccès
VS1809/03/2018O3b F4 (4 satellites)MoyenneSuccès
VS1907/11/2018Metop-CHéliosynchroneSuccès
VS2019/12/2018CSO-1HéliosynchroneSuccès
VS2127/02/2019OneWeb F6 (6 satellites)BasseSuccès
VS2204/04/2019O3b F5 (4 satellites)MoyenneSuccès
VS2318/12/2019COSMO-SkyMed 2de génération + CHEOPS + 3 nano-satellitesHéliosynchroneSuccès
VS2401/12/2020FalconEye2PolaireSuccès
VS2529/12/2020CSO-2PolaireSuccès
VS2604/12/2021Galileo FOC-M9 (23 - 24)MoyenneSuccès
VS2710/02/2022OneWeb (34 satellites)BasseSuccès

Find out more about all the launches