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Kourou beach

Shore of the Atlantic Ocean in Kourou, French Guiana, with the view of infamous Devil's Island on the background. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Kourou: Residential area

Kourou is the closest town to the launch facilities in French Guiana. It serves as the main residential area for the space port and as a base for officials, guests, and journalists covering space operations. In its turn, Kourou is located 60 kilometers from French Guiana's main city of Cayenne.

The main space center is located to the west of Kourou in a restricted area. Mount Carapa, Mont Café and the dual-peak Monts Pariacabo dominate the largely flat area around Kourou. The surrounding landscape is savannah-like near the shore and wild Amazonian rain forest further inland.

EPCU S5 facility

Between April and July 2001, Arianespace inaugurated the S5 Payload Preparation Facility (or Ensemble de Préparation Charge Utile, EPCU S5 -- in French) for the pre-flight checkout and preparation of satellites. The state-of-the art complex was designed to handle payloads for up to four upcoming missions simultaneously.

The French Space Agency, which has general responsibility for the Kourou operations sub-contracted the development of the S5 complex to Germany-based MAN Technologie AG. The company built the steel structure, including cladding of the buildings, as well as crane hardware, large doors, energy supply and the electronic equipment. In its turn, Campenon Bernard took responsibility for the civil engineering aspects of the project, interior systems, air conditioning and utility services.

The introduction of this complex has significantly boosted the capacity of the space center in Kourou in preparation of the satellites.

The building consists of total three clean-room sections:

  • The 700-square-meter S5C hall contains hardware for checking mechanical, electrical, pneumatic, radio-equipment and other non-hazardous work onboard the spacecraft;
  • The S5A and S5B halls are dedicated to final preparation work, including hazardous operations of fueling and encapsulation of satellites; The S5B hall, measuring 400 square meters is dedicated to fueling. Specifically for operations with the ATV spacecraft, the facility was upgraded to handle Russian-produced hydrazine fuel, which the space tug would carry to the International Space Station;

The S5 building also has a specialized administration wing. (277)

After satellites are placed under their payload shroud, they are usually transferred to the Final Assembly Building, BAF, for integration with the Ariane-5 rocket, before its rollout to the launch pad and a blastoff.

Booster Test Stand

Located at the southern edge of the Ariane processing area, the facility is designed for live firings of rocket engines.

Other support facilities

Chemical Analysis Laboratory

In anticipation of the ATV missions, the facility operated by the French Space Agency, CNES, was upgraded with new analysis equipment (special analyzers and filters, gas-sampling systems, gas calibration systems, flow meters) to handle Russian-produced propellant.

Telemetry and Safety Systems

The French Space Agency, CNES, also manages optical, telemetry and radar tracking systems in Kourou. These facilities are responsible for telemetry transmission and radar contact with transponders onboard rockets in order to track their trajectory. In case of emergency during launch, the flight safety segment of the complex is responsible for issuing self-destruct commands to the rocket. CNES conducted general development of the global ground control network to support launches in Kourou, including identifying geographical zones, conducting on-site surveys, and negotiating contracts with system and service providers.

A global ground-control network which supports missions originating from Kourou includes:

  • The Galliot ground control station of the Ariane network in Kourou;
  • The fixed SMA station at Monte das Flores, Azores (ATV-1 mission);
  • The fixed station at the Institute for Telecommunications Research in Adelaide, Australia, (ATV-1 mission);
  • A mobile station in Awarua, New Zealand, (ATV-1 mission);
  • The USN fixed station in Dongara, Australia, (ATV-1 mission);
  • Ground control station on Montagne Des Pères, south of Kourou;
  • A theodolite station on Iles du Salut off the coast of French Guiana;

In addition, sea-borne and air-borne control and tracking equipment is deployed downrange from Kourou to support particular missions. The ship borne Ariane station, SNA is placed in Atlantic Ocean to support Ariane launches. (278) (280)

Ariane launch viewing sites

Three official launch viewing sites are spread around Kourou:

Carapa, named after a South-American tree common in French Guiana, is located on the mountain of the same name, southwest of Kourou and some 12.5 kilometers from the Ariane-5 launch pad. It is open to the general public without any restrictions.

Agami site is located 7.5 kilometers to the east from the Ariane-5 launch pad. No children younger 16 are allowed. Gas masks are issued to all present.

Toucan site is located 5.1 kilometers south of the Ariane-5 launch complex. Access to the site is restricted and gas masks are issued to all present.

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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: May 25, 2008

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: May 23, 2008

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"Tropical paradise" look of the seashore in Kourou. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Kourou suburb

Main gateway to Kourou connecting it with the Guiana Space Center. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Ariane-5 monument

The main entrance to Guiana Space Center features a full-scale replica of the Ariane-5 rocket. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Montagne Des Peres

The Montagne Des Pères mountain with the ground control station on its summit. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak



Armed members of the French military guard all the major facilities of the Guiana Space Center. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

jupiter building

The Jupiter building, from which flight controllers monitor Ariane rockets during launches. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

S5 building

S5 building

The S5 satellite preparation complex can handle payloads for up to four upcoming missions simultaneously. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

weather station

The weather station in Kourou. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Port Cayenne

An oversize container used for transportation of space hardware is unloaded in the port of Cayenne, French Guiana.

Road to Kourou

road to korou

An oversize container used for transportation of space hardware rides along the road connecting the Guiana Space Center and the port of Cayenne backdropped by communications towers supporting the space center. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak