Five satellites rode a Soyuz booster into orbit Monday from French Guiana, and these spectacular photos from Europe’s tropical spaceport show the legendary rocket’s fiery departure from the edge of the lush Amazon jungle.
Launching for the 14th time from the Guiana Space Center, the Russian-built Soyuz rocket carried Europe’s Sentinel 1B Earth observation satellite, a French spacecraft named Microscope to probe the fundamental laws of physics, and three CubeSats from European universities.
The 151-foot (46-meter) rocket blasted off at 2102 GMT (5:02 p.m. EDT; 6:02 p.m. French Guiana time) Monday, flying under the commercial banner of Arianespace, which operates and sells Soyuz flights from the Guiana Space Center.
Soyuz launchers have flown nearly 1,900 times in multiple variants since the dawn of the Space Age, carrying cosmonauts on the earliest daring jaunts into orbit and now global astronaut crews to the International Space Station.
The tropical environment at the European-run Guiana Space Center is a stark contrast to the surroundings of Soyuz launch pads at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the arid, treeless steppe of Kazakhstan, or at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia near the Arctic Circle.
Russian designers introduced several changes to the Soyuz rocket for missions launched from French Guiana.
The Soyuz ST version used for flights from the Guiana Space Center has its payloads installed vertically on the launch pad, instead of horizontally inside the rocket’s integration hangar.
The four Soyuz liquid-fueled boosters crash in the Atlantic Ocean after jettisoning from the rocket — not on land as is the case with flights from Baikonur and Plesetsk — so engineers altered the booster design to open valves after separation, ensuring the expendable rocket casings sink and do not float.
Engineers made other changes to the rocket to prevent icing and to better contend with the higher humidity in French Guiana, which sits at about 5 degrees north latitude.
The photos below show the Russian launch crew preparing the Soyuz for liftoff, the retraction of the launch pad’s mobile gantry, and Monday’s dazzling blastoff.
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