French Guiana cannot launch latest Soyuz

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European launch provider Arianespace is only able to offer the Samara Space Center-built Soyuz 2-1a rocket for launches from French Guiana and not the more powerful 2-1b version owing to launch complex infrastructure issues.

From the new 400 million Euro ($553.4 million) European Space Agency/CNES Soyuz launch complex near the town of Sinnamary in French Guiana the 2-1a can put 2,700kg (5,940lb) into geostationary transfer orbit and the 2-1b, 3,600kg.

The 2-1b achieves this with the new RD-124 third stage engine that uses kerosene that has a low tar level, which would require new infrastructure.

"For the 2-1b it would take two years (to install the infrastructure) from a decision, which I think will come soon. We could still launch 2-1b from 2009," says European Space Agency Soyuz programme manager Harald Arend.

However the new infrastructure for the 2-1b will require monies in addition to the existing 400 million Euro cost.

The 2-1b's use of a different kerosene to the 2-1a the launch complex requires additional propellant handling equipment, such as storage tanks and pipes. There is also a need with the RD-124 for more helium handling capacity.

The 2-1a has the RD-110 third stage engine and it uses a higher tar content kerosene for that stage and the first and second stage engines. The 2-1b also uses this higher tar kerosene for its first and second stage engines.

The introduction of Soyuz at French Guiana had been hailed by ESA and Arianespace as a major addition to the family of European launchers. This includes the Ariane 5 launched from the Kourou launch site.

Soyuz 2-1b can be launched from Russia but the equitorial location of the Sinnamary site provides improved payload capability.

Sinnamary will host two Soyuz launchers at any one time, with two being transported at the same time from Russia to the South American location for economic reasons. Having a second launcher will also provide back-up if the designated rocket has a problem.