History of the Soyuz launch facility in French Guiana
For more than half a century, the endless grasslands of Kazakhstan and harsh evergreens of northern Russia have served as the only backdrops for the fiery launches of the Russian Soyuz rocket. In 2009, however, the world’s most famous space booster is expected to see a drastic change of scenery, as workers erect the familiar tulip-shaped structure of the Soyuz launch pad in the midst of the equatorial jungle of French Guiana.
ELA-3 launch facility in Kourou
Origin of the project
Very early in the history of Guiana's space center, the French government made an official decision to open the site to any country willing to deploy its space launcher systems there. At the time, few could have predicted that Russian rockets would become first "foreign guests" in Kourou.
First serious studies, considering bringing veteran Russian rockets to Kourou were initiated in 1998. After several years of consideration, Europe committed to fund the construction of a launch pad for the Soyuz-2 family of rockets in Kourou. According to Arianespace, launching Soyuz from Kourou would increase its payload capacity (to an elliptical geo-transfer orbit) from 1.8 tons to 3 tons. (275) As many as 50 Soyuz launches were expected from Kourou over a 15-year period, with three-four Soyuz missions annually, before the first refurbishment of the launch complex would be required.
On November 7, 2003, the Russian and French governments formally agreed to bring Soyuz to Kourou. Around the same time, geological and topographic surveys began at the site selected for Soyuz in Guiana, some 13 kilometers northwest of the Ariane launch complex. A price tag of the construction was expected to be 344 million Euro. The Russian contractors would be paid 121-130 million Euro for manufacturing and installing launch equipment. European companies took responsibility for the development overall infrastructure of the complex. The cost of the project later increased significantly, with France bearing 62 percent of expenses. Still, proponents of the project said that it was cheaper than the development of the a whole new family of launch vehicles with similar capabilities.
The launch complex for the Soyuz rockets in Kourou, known as ELS, features considerable differences from its original facilities in Baikonur and Plesetsk. Many potential commercial payloads for Soyuz demand vertical integration with the rocket, unlike Russian spacecraft which can be connected to the Soyuz in horizontal position. As a result, engineers decided to install payload module onto the rocket after it was rolled out and erected into vertical position on the launch pad.
To provide a climate-controlled environment for the integration of payloads with the rocket in the midst of a tropical jungle, a movable service tower was introduced. No such structures ever existed in Baikonur or Plesetsk. The design of the tower could enable its further extension in the future, including accommodations for crew access into the manned spacecraft.
Total height of the gantry reached 52 meters to the top of its curved roof, while its internal movable work platforms provided access to the Soyuz launcher at various levels up to a height of 36 meters. The gantry was designed as a lightweight structure for its size, with a total weight - including its structural framework, work platforms and corrugated external panels - of approximately 800 metric tons. Upon the completion of the Soyuz rocket assembly, the tower would be rolled away 80 meters from the launch pad. Gantry's construction was managed by the French CNES space agency (which oversees operations and infrastructure at the Spaceport), and included Rheinmetall Italy, along with the KBOM General Machine Building Design Bureau and MIR - two of the Russian companies involved in developing the new Soyuz launch site.
In designing the complex, the developers also left the option for the future addition of liquid hydrogen fuel storage, which would enable launches of a new generation of Soyuz rockets powered by cryogenic engines.
In addition to the launch pad, the Soyuz complex in Guiana also included a processing building, MIK, for horizontal assembly of the rocket, located 700 meters from the pad. The two facilities are connected by a railway line. Also, a launch control center is situated one kilometer from the launch pad.
Upgrades for piloted missions
Upgrades of the Soyuz pad in Korou for piloted missions was theoretically possible, however it would require taking the launch pad out of service for a certain period of time. (218) During the meeting of the International Space Station partners on March 2, 2006, the head of the European Space Agency, ESA, denied the existence of any plans to launch manned missions on the Soyuz-ST from Kourou, however he added "never say never."
With the signing of a formal agreement between Arianespace and the Russian Space Agency on April 11, 2005, the countdown for the construction of the launch pad officially started on April 26, 2005. According to the contract, the Moscow-based KBOM design bureau had to be ready for the "all out" tests of the launch pad with the Soyuz-2 (Soyuz-ST) rocket within 35 months from the beginning of the construction. The tests were expected to last for two months, culminating with the actual launch of the first mission sometime in 2008, or 37 months after the beginning of the construction. At the time, the excavation for the pad was expected to start at the end of the monsoon season of 2005. (220)
As of 2006, construction of the flame trench, the launch platform, the assembly building and the control center was to be completed by the end of 2007. Integration of the Russian ground equipment was to start at the end of 2007 and be completed in the fall of 2008.
On February 14, 2006, Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, and Anatoly Perminov, Director General of Roskosmos, signed the supply contract for the first four Soyuz launch vehicles to be launched from Kourou. A signing ceremony in Moscow was attended by the French and Russian prime ministers. At the time the first launch of the Soyuz from Kourou was expected in November 2008.
The construction site of the Soyuz launch base in French Guiana was officially opened on February 26, 2007, by Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General, Yannick d'Escatha, President of CNES, Jean-Yves Le Gall, Director General of Arianespace, and Anatoly Perminov, Head of Roskosmos. The "end of 2008" was still officially cited as the date of the first launch, however by mid-2007, it slipped to "no later than March 2009."
By the end of spring 2008, the main elements of the Soyuz launch complex infrastructure, including the launch control center and the launch pad, were largely completed and ready for installation of Russian equipment. As of the spring 2008, the arrival of a large Russian team responsible for installation work was expected around June 2008. Russian workers would be mostly housed in the nearby town of Sinnamary.
Building the Mobile Gantry
In the meantime, in December 2007, a working group responsible for the development of the unique movable gantry tower held a so-called Critical Design Review, CDR, meeting, which finalized the baseline configuration of the structure. In the final year of the Soyuz launch complex construction, the movable tower turned out to be the biggest stumbling block of the program. As of the end of 2007, its final delivery slipped to middle of 2008. Another CDR meeting took place on February 26-29, 2008. By that time another two-week delay loomed over the end of August 2008 deadline for the delivery of the gantry.
Also, in December 2007, the so-called Safeguard Europe kit, designed to ensure safety during the launch of the Soyuz from Kourou, had been shipped to Russia. At the time, the Russian team planned to start qualification tests of the rocket at the end of February 2008.
Arrival of the Russian assembly team to Kourou
On March 27, 2008, a Soyuz consultation committee met in French Guiana to review the readiness of the site for the arrival of the Russian team. (281) On June 4, 2008, the committee met in Moscow, officially delaying the beginning of the launch pad system installation by the Russian team until August 2008.
First Russian equipment ships to Kourou
On June 16-17, 2008, TsSKB Progress, the prime developer of the Soyuz rocket, shipped three containers with the Russian hardware to Kourou. The equipment was transported to the port of St Petersburg, where it was to be loaded onto the freighter ship Fliterland scheduled to sail to Guiana at the beginning of July 2008 in the first of two trips.
According to European sources, the first ship was expected to deliver the Service Cabin, which enables the access to the rocket during the pre-launch processing.
At the time, the delivery of two Soyuz-2-1A launch vehicles adapted for the Guiana Space Center was expected at the beginning of 2009, the Russian space agency said.
From June 23 to July 5, 2008, the Mashinostroitel plant in Perm, Russia, conducted a demo testing of the 140-ton, 32-meter-long transporter-erector for the ELS launch complex for representatives of Arianespace, in preparation for its shipment to Guiana.
An additional 10 rockets for Kourou
On Sept. 20, 2008, in Sochi, Russia, Roskosmos and Arianespace signed another agreement for the supply of an additional 10 Soyuz-ST launch vehicles with a reported price tag of between $300-400 million. This time, the first launch from Kourou was promised for September 2009.
On Oct. 17, 2008, Yekaterinburg-based NPO Avtomatiki announced that it had completed the installation of the checkout launch system for the Soyuz rocket in French Guiana. According to NPO's Director General Leonid Shalimov tests of the checkout launch system were to be completed by October 22, while the first mission of the Soyuz rocket was expected at the end of 2009.
On February 20, 2009, Arianespace announced that the construction of the Soyuz launch pad in French Guiana had reached a major milestone with the "installation start-up for its Russian-developed launch system."
According to Arianespace, the activity began with placement of the multi-segment "support crown" on the site's concrete launch pad, which was then outfitted with the first of two umbilical masts. This initial mast provides fluids and electrical connections for the launcher's Block I third stage, as well as its Fregat upper stage and the vehicle's payload. A second mast, to be installed later, is shorter and services the Soyuz vehicle's Block A core stage.
On March 28, 2009, A. N. Chulkov, the head of launch vehicles and infrastructure directorate at Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos conducted a meeting of the mobil tower construction management team at NITs RKP in the town of Peresvet (Sergiev Posad), where the 560-ton, 55-meter structure was being assembled. (The actual assembly site was located at the former NIIKhSM Remmash facility near Sergiev Posad.). According to Roskosmos, the plant testing of the tower was to start on April 3, 2009. The tower would then be taken apart and shipped to Guiana.
At the opening of the Samara Aerospace Forum on April 7, 2009, Aleksandr Kirilin, the head of TsSKB Progress, told RIA Novosti that the first launch of the Soyuz rocket from Kourou was now scheduled for Dec. 28, 2009.
On June 3, 2009, Arianespace announced that the infrastructure that maintains Soyuz in its erected position was being completed. In the nearby Launcher Assembly Building, ground support equipment for Soyuz’ integration was being prepared, and the transporter/erector rail car was readied for testing, according to a company's press-release.
Completing the mobile gantry
On June 16, 2009, the head of KBOM, Igor Barmin, said that the long-delayed movable tower was finally ready. According to Barmin, 40 containers would be used to ship the structure from Russia to French Guiana. The first pieces did arrive to Guiana on July 20, 2009, and according to ESA, the delivery was to be completed by the end of August 2009.
In the meantime, on June 26, the third sea transport from Russia arrived in French Guiana. It carried large Russian hardware for fueling of the Soyuz rockets, including three tanks for cryogenic liquid oxygen, two tanks for liquid nitrogen and a railway-based mobile transporter of kerosene. Unloading of this cargo was expected to take a week and instead of docking at Guiana's main port of Cayenne, the ship stopped at Pariokabo, the port closest to the launch site.
The following month, the head of Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov reported to the Chairman of the Russian government, Vladimir Putin, that the main work on the complex would be completed by October 30. According to Perminov, 200 Russian citizens worked at the site at the time and four sea transports had departed for Guiana. The first launch was then promised for the beginning of 2010.
In July 2009, Roskosmos reported that Russian personnel in Guiana was conducting tune up work on the service platform (below the launch pad) and on the main launch system, while the automated control system was under installation. Photos from the site showed all metal structures of the pad already in place. However during the summer 2009, the head of TsSKB Progress, Aleksandr Kirilin, confirmed to the press that the first launch of the Soyuz from Kourou was now postponed to April 2010. As usual, he blamed problems with the development of the movable service tower for the delay. At the same time, Kirilin promised to ship the first pair of Soyuz ST rockets to Guiana on November 1, 2009.
By the beginning of 2010, it was becoming increasingly clear that problems with the completion of the launch complex, and first of all delays with the delivery and assembly of the mobile gantry, would likely push the first Soyuz mission from Kourou to 2011. By the middle of April 2010, the troublesome mobile gantry under assembly reached the height of 39 meters. At the time, the official launch date for the first Soyuz launch from Kourou was set for September. Two months later, Arianespace announced that the framework of the movable tower had been completed and that work had started on the installation of its metallic siding.
In the meantime, the first of two Soyuz rockets, which had arrived in Kourou in November 2009 and was still awaiting its first mission, had to be re-qualified for operational readiness in May 2010. Still, Roskosmos and Arianespace continued negotiating the purchase of an additional 10 Soyuz-ST rockets, which was formally inked on June 19, in the presence of the Russian and French presidents at the international economic forum in St. Petersburg.
In the meantime, by September, Russian and European space officials publicly admitted that the first Soyuz mission from Kourou would take place in the first quarter of 2011, at the earliest. At the time, sources within the industry were saying that even that deadline would be very difficult to meet. Just a month later in October 2010, Russian sources have said that even a June 2011 launch date could be too optimistic. At the time, the so-called "dry" rollout (without fueling) of the launch vehicle to the pad and the integrated testing of the launch facility with the rocket had both been re-scheduled for 2011. A combination of delays with available payloads and the completion of the launch facility pushed the first Soyuz mission from Kourou to June 2011, under the best circumstances.
In mid-November, Arianespace announced that the validation of the delivery methods for liquid oxygen, liquid nitrogen, and hydrogen peroxide to the Soyuz pad in Kourou had been completed during 2010. In addition, a functional model of the Fregat upper stage was filled with its UDMH, NTO and hydrazine storable propellants in the S3B facility in the course of the year as well. Final evaluations of the delivery of kerosene were to be carried out in November and December, Arianespace said.
In a major milestone in November, the completed Mobile Service Tower, MBO, was moved to the launch pad for the first time. However testing of the overall facility with the rocket for a first mission continued lagging behind schedule. By the end of the year, an unofficial but reliable source in the Russian space industry said that the first "dry" rollout of the Soyuz rocket to the launch pad had been scheduled for April 20, 2011. As a result, final qualification of the facility for operation could take place by the middle of the summer, thus pushing the first Soyuz launch from Guiana to September 2011, at the earliest. On January 4, an official statement from Arianespace on the upcoming operations in 2011 said that two Soyuz launches would take place "after mid-year." The company promised to assume operational responsibility for the complex in the spring of 2011.
On Jan. 27, 2011, a consulting committee representing participants in the project held a meeting in Paris. However the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, did not report about it until February 2. As expected, the first launch from the complex was announced to be targeted for August 31, 2011. The launch vehicle was identified as Soyuz-ST-B and its payload as a pair of Galileo navigation satellites. A "dry" rollout of the vehicle to the pad was confirmed as scheduled for April 2011. The February 2 statement from Roskosmos also promised the delivery of two additional Soyuz rockets to Kourou during 2011.
By March 2011, the first Soyuz launch from Kourou slipped from the end of August to the end of September of that year.
In the morning hours of April 29, 2011, the first Soyuz rocket started its first 600-meter transfer to the launch zone, Arianespace said. It marked the start of a "dry run" validation of procedures replicating all aspects of the rocket's typical multi-day final preparation phase, except for the vehicle's actual fueling. For this dry run, the process was to continue to the final countdown on May 4, when it was to be purposely stopped - allowing procedures to be confirmed in the scenario of a launch-day interruption. The final countdown was to resume on May 5, with a simulated liftoff and downrange mission trajectory.
The vehicle involved in this exercise was a flight-worthy launcher that was to be used for a future mission. It was one of two launchers then stored in French Guiana.
During the afternoon hours on April 29, the mobile gantry moved into position around the vehicle, allowing delivery and integration of the launcher's upper composite in the evening. This upper composite consisted of a Fregat upper stage and the ST-type payload fairing. For the dry-run exercise, the upper composite did not contain an actual payload.
According to Roskosmos, the rollout and installation of the rocket into vertical position ended late on April 29. The next day, the payload section had to be integrated with the rocket. After the integration, electric and pneumatic lines would be connected to the third stage, clearing the way for complex tests continuing on May 2 with a May Day holiday. The testing of pre-launch operations would conclude on May 7, 2011, Roskosmos said.
According to Arianespace, a highly realistic simulation of the launch, which replicated a typical mission for a commercial telecommunications satellite payload took place on May 5, 2011.
With its "virtual" liftoff occurring at 4:00 p.m. local time, the exercise reproduced a nominal 30-minute flight of Soyuz, concluding with a representative deployment of a 2,570-kilogram broadband services relay satellite for an injection into a geostationary transfer orbit by the vehicle's Fregat upper stage. The orbital parameters for this simulated mission were: perigee - 250 kilometers, apogee - 35,950 kilometers and inclination - 6 degrees toward the Equator.
The flight was performed with the fully-assembled Soyuz on the launch pad, and included a simulated fueling of the vehicle during the morning and mid-day hours on May 5. The 52-meter-tall mobile service gantry was then rolled back to its parked position, revealing for the first time the Soyuz rocket on its new launch pad.
For the "dry run" exercise, the Soyuz launch center and the Spaceport's Jupiter mission control room were staffed by members of the European and Russian teams, as they will be during an actual flight. The Soyuz center is located one kilometer from the vehicle's purpose-built launch pad in the Spaceport's northern sector, while the Jupiter facility is situated in the Spaceport's main base area, 22 kilometers away.
The "dry run" was highly realistic, including a simulated countdown and liftoff, as well as flight-following with tracking cameras and telemetry network. It included a representative real-time video program broadcast distributed to mission customers. While a mix of vehicles for fueling the rocket on the launch pad were deployed as part of the exercise, no transfer of propellants or gases was performed.
At the time of the "dry run" test, Arianespace said that the launcher for the first Soyuz mission from Kourou was scheduled to arrive in French Guiana during June 2011.
A detailed review held on May 12, under the chairmanship of the Director General of ESA and with the participation of Arianespace and industrial prime contractors, concluded that the space and ground elements will be ready for a launch in October, leading to a public announcement on May 23, about the first Soyuz mission from Guiana on October 20, 2011.
On May 20, the Regnum news agency reported that on that day TsSKB Progress was to ship two sets of Soyuz-ST-B launch vehicles to St. Petersburg by rail for a following shipment by sea to French Guiana. One of these two rockets was expected to be used for the maiden flight of Soyuz from Kourou.
On October 7, Roskosmos announced that Russian specialists had been removing oil residue from the service cabin (below the launch pad) to ensure safety of the future fueling operations. In the meantime, on the mobile service tower, Roskosmos personnel was conducting final checks of all communications, including thermal control system.
Finally in October 2011, after two decades of planning and construction, the legendary Soyuz rocket was to fly from a brand-new launch complex in Kourou, French Guiana. The near-equatorial location of the launch facility in South America enables a dramatic increase in the payload mass delivered by a veteran Russian rocket into space, comparing to cargo delivered by the same vehicle from similar launch sites in Plesetsk and Baikonur.
In Kourou, the Soyuz complex neighbors operational launch pad for Europe's heavy-lifting Ariane-5 rocket and a soon-to-be-completed facility for the light-weight Vega launcher. The construction of the new pad for Soyuz in exotic Amazon jungle took years longer than expected and the Russian-built launcher would have to attract enough commercial customers to pay back on the investment.
Arianespace to expand Soyuz complex in French Guiana
On Dec. 6, 2013, Arianespace announced that it was starting the construction of a dedicated facility -- Nouveau Bâtiment de Remplissage, NBR, for the fueling of the Fregat upper stage in Kourou. The company's Board of Directors approved the project on November 6, and the French space agency, CNES, gave its go-ahead a month later. At the time, the new facility was scheduled to open for business in the first half of 2015 as part of the Soyuz launch complex in Kourou.
The new building was designed to free existing facilities currently occupied by Fregat operations for future processing of payloads slated to be launched on all three vehicles based in Kourou -- Ariane-5, Soyuz and Vega, and thus, enable to fly more missions from the center.
End of operations at Soyuz pad in Kourou
In February 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent Western sanctions, Roskosmos announced that it would withdraw its personnel from French Guiana, ending 11 years of operations of the Soyuz rockets from the European spaceport. On Feb. 26, 2022, Roskosmos said that the plan to evacuate its specialists from Guiana had been in the works and on March 4, 2022, Roskosmos announced that all 85 Russian employees in Guiana had returned to Moscow.
In January 2023, an ESA official said that after the removal of two Soyuz rockets from the site, six countries- members of the agency would make a decision about the fate of the infrastructure. Among options were cited the conversion of the facility for an unnamed medium-lift rocket or using some available buildings as storage.
Chronology of the Soyuz launch pad construction in French Guiana:
2003 Nov. 7: The Russian and French governments formally agree to bring Soyuz to Kourou.
2005 April 11: Signing of a formal agreement between Arianespace and the Russian Space Agency on the Soyuz launch pad in Kourou.
2005 April 26: Construction of the launch pad officially starts; it is to be completed within 37 months with the first launch projected in 2008.
2006 Feb. 14: Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, and Anatoly Perminov, Director General of Roskosmos, sign the supply contract for the first four Soyuz launch vehicles to be launched from Kourou.
2007 June 18: The Russian space agency and Arianespace sign a contract for the first four launches of the Soyuz-ST rocket from Guiana.
2007 December: The Safeguard Europe kit, designed to ensure safety during launch of Soyuz from Kourou, is shipped to Russia.
2008 June 16-17: TsSKB Progress, the prime developer of the Soyuz rocket, ship three containers with Russian hardware to Kourou.
2008 June 23 - July 5: Mashinostroitel plant in Perm, Russia, conducted a demo testing of the 140-ton, 32-meter-long transporter-erector for the ELS launch complex for representatives of Arianespace, in preparation for its shipment to Guiana.
2008 Sept. 20: In Sochi, Russia, Roskosmos and Arianespace sign another agreement for the supply of an additional 10 Soyuz-ST launch vehicles with a reported price tag of between $300-400 million.
2009 June 10-26: The third sea transport delivers the Russian-built liquid oxygen and nitrogen tanks and the rail kerosene fueling system to Guiana.
2009 June 24: In Sergiev Posad, Russia, workers start dismantling the mobile gantry in preparation for its shipment to Guiana.
2009 July 20: The first pieces of the mobile gantry arrive to Guiana.
2009 Aug. 25: The first launch of Soyuz from Kourou was officially delayed to April 2010.
2009 Oct. 22: Technical qualification review is held. By that time, the installation of the pipelines and valves on the liquid oxygen tanks connecting the launch pad with the liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen storage area had been completed. Also, pressure tests are conducted at the gas storage area.
2009 Nov. 18: The final infrastructure acceptance review took place. In the meantime on the launch pad, workers finished the installation of pipelines and air gas lines of the cable and fueling gantry, KZM.
2009 Nov. 7 - Nov. 23: The MN Colibri ferries the first pair of Soyuz 2-1a rockets along with a Fregat upper stage prototype from St. Petersburg to Pariacabo near Kourou. After unloading from the ship, the rockets were stored at the ELA-2 complex.
2009 end of November: All containers carrying the mobile gantry arrive in French Guiana clearing the way for a formal authorization for the start of the structure assembly.
2009 December: The Soyuz Consultation Committee postpones the delivery of the gantry structure to the European area of the spaceport until the end of March 2010.
2010 April: The qualification testing of the facility's infrastructure starts, including validation of its launch site's mechanical elements, such as the launch system umbilical arms and vehicles used for fueling of the Soyuz. Also being tested is the distribution network for the various gases used during a launch campaign, including air for ventilation of the launch vehicle and its payload, along with nitrogen and helium.
2010 May 7: The first of two Soyuz launchers undergoes the maintenance check that is standard for these rockets in storage awaiting liftoff.
2010 May 8: The installation of four strap-on boosters on the core stage of the Soyuz-ST rocket had been completed in Kourou.
2010 May 11: The Soyuz Consultation Committee, comprising top officials from Roskosmos, ESA, CNES and Arianespace, meets in French Guiana. At the time, the first launch of Soyuz from Kourou was promised for the fourth quarter of 2010.
2010 June 19: During an international economic forum in St. Petersburg, the heads of Roskosmos and Arianespace signed a contract for the supply of an additional 10 Soyuz-ST launchers until 2016. This brought the total number of planned Soyuz missions from Kourou to 24 until 2019.
2010 November: The Mobile Service Tower, MBO, was moved to the launch pad for the first time.
2011 Jan. 27: A consulting committee representing the participants in the "Soyuz in Kourou" project held a meeting in Paris, targeting the first Soyuz mission from the center for August 31, 2011.
2011 April 29: The Soyuz rocket rolls out to the launch pad in French Guiana for "dry run" tests.
2011 May 12: A detailed review under the chairmanship of the Director General of ESA and with the participation of Arianespace and industrial prime contractors, concludes that the space and ground elements will be ready for a launch in October, leading to a public announcement on May 23, about the first Soyuz launch from Guiana on October 20, 2011.
2011 May 20: TsSKB Progress ships a pair of rockets to French Guiana, including one intended for a maiden flight.
2013 Nov. 6: Board of Directors at Arianespace approves the construction of a fueling facility for the Fregat stage, Nouveau Bâtiment de Remplissage, NBR.
2013 Dec. 6: French Space Agency, CNES, approves the construction of a fueling facility for the Fregat stage, Nouveau Bâtiment de Remplissage, NBR.
2022 March 4: An aircraft carrying Russian employees from French Guiana returns to Moscow.
Igor Barmin, head of KBOM, stands next to a scaled mockup of the Soyuz launch complex in Kourou at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget in June 2005. Click to enlarge: 400 by 300 pixels / 36K Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
The construction of the Soyuz launch pad in French Guiana, as it looked in March 2008. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
Mountains of granite were processed during the construction of the Soyuz launch pad in Kourou. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
While the original R-7 launch pads was built by Soviet military conscripts, an army of civilian Guianese workers labored on the Soyuz launch complex in Kourou. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
As half a century ago in Baikonur, workers struggled to keep ground water away from the giant excavation of the launch pad. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
Unlike steppes of Kazakhstan and evergreens of Plesetsk, the Amazonian rain forest surrounds the Soyuz pad in Kourou. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
A few last wall panels are left to be installed on the Soyuz assembly building, known by its Russian abbreviation as MIK. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
The assembly and testing building for the Soyuz rocket under construction in French Guiana in March 2008. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
Resembling an entrance into a nuclear fallout shelter, the access door to the launch control center is protected by a concrete ramp facing the launch pad. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
A special enclosure houses miles of cables running from the launch pad to the support facilities. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
A propellant storage for the Soyuz rocket under construction in French Guiana in March 2008. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
Construction of the Soyuz launch complex extended far outside its official boundaries with miles of pipelines and communications being installed to connect the facility with the rest of the spaceport. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak
The Soyuz rocket stands on its brand-new equatorial launch pad in French Guiana on May 4, 2011. Credit: ESA / S. Corvaja