New European perspective for Russia's most reliable launcher system
In October 2011 Soyuz launchers developed in Russia joined the launch programme of the European Space Centre at Kourou in French Guiana. Before its deployment there, the long-serving ‘Grande Dame’ of Russian space flight went in for a facelift: Soyuz ST, which is resistant to tropical conditions, is the most modern and powerful version of the Soyuz 2 rocket. Rearing up around 46 metres and weighing more than 300 tons, the rocket is capable of carrying up to six payloads per launch into orbit.
Highly diverse uses for Soyuz ST
Soyuz ST consists of three stages running on liquid fuel and a Fregat upper stage that may be fired up to six times. This enables Soyuz ST to carry out even complex missions to different target orbits.
Thus, for example, the rocket is capable of carrying around five tons into a near-Earth orbit, three tons into a geostationary transfer orbit, or 1.5 tons into a geostationary orbit. This puts Soyuz ST into a position between the heavy-lift rocket Ariane 5 (around ten tons) and the light VEGA rocket (up to 2.5 tons). The launcher is equally suitable for carrying satellite constellations and transporting navigation or Earth-observation satellites.
How Soyuz came to Kourou
The Russian Soyuz launcher system is judged to be extremely reliable. It has been in use since the fifties of the last century, and it is the world's most frequently employed launcher. Soyuz became available to western customers as early as the mid-nineties under a Russian-European joint venture called Starsem. However, the only spaceport available at the time was that of Baikonur in Kazakhstan.
Consequently, marketing was subject to some restrictions both technical and political in nature. This is why the option of launching Soyuz from Kourou was considered early on. Moreover, Kourou's geographical position close to the equator is more suitable for launching rockets than that of Baikonur, which is further north: benefiting from the faster rotation of the Earth, launcher systems need less fuel, or are able to carry heavier loads with the same amount of fuel.
In June 2002, ESA's member states adopted a resolution to step up their collaboration with Russia in the field of launcher systems. Among other things, it was agreed that Europe’s launch facilities in Kourou should be opened to Russian Soyuz ST launchers, and that the system should be marketed by Arianespace. The 'Soyuz at Kourou' programme was adopted by the European research ministers at the May 2003 conference of the ESA Ministerial Council and formally signed on February 4, 2004. Germany took part in the programme together with France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland. The foundation stone of the launch pad was officially laid on February 26, 2007. Work to build and qualify the launch facilities on the Kourou premises was concluded in the summer of 2011.
The first take-off of a Soyuz ST launcher from the European spaceport in French Guyana took place on October 21, 2011. On board the rocket were the first two fully functional satellites of the future European satellite navigation system Galileo.
Factsheet Sojus ST
Source: Arianespace, Soyus User's Manual, Issue 2 Revision 0, März 2012
** Specifications per booster
GTO - geostationary transfer orbit
GEO - geostationary orbit
SSO - sun synchronous orbit
LEO - low earth orbit
MEO - middle earth orbit
LOX - liquid oxygen
N2O4 - dinitrogen tetroxide
UDMH - unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine