First Soyuz rockets put together in South America
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: May 10, 2010
After unpacking two Soyuz rockets from shipping crates, Russian workers at the Guiana Space Center are testing and assembling the boosters before moving the vehicle to the launch pad this summer.
Each Soyuz rocket includes four strap-on boosters, a core stage and a third stage, all fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen. A Fregat upper stage will be added atop the Soyuz to inject satellites into specific orbits.
The ongoing testing will involve bolting the pieces together to test out procedures inside the integration building, which mimics similar Soyuz infrastructure at other launch sites, according to Arianespace, the Soyuz rocket's commercial operator in Kourou.
If a new mobile gantry is finished by July, the workers will move one of the vehicles to the launch pad for combined tests of the booster and the ground facilities.
Antonio Fabrizi, the European Space Agency's director of launchers, said there are tight schedules leading to the liftoff of the first Soyuz rocket from the space center, which normally hosts launches of Europe's Ariane 5 rockets.
European space officials are planning to launch medium-lift Soyuz rockets and the new lightweight Vega booster from French Guiana to augment the heavy-lift Ariane 5 workhorse.
Multiple shifts of workers are constructing the gantry, but it is uncertain whether the facility will be ready for the first Soyuz launch by September.
The launch of the HYLAS communications satellite for Avanti Communications of the United Kingdom is still scheduled for September, but there is no room for error in the schedule, Fabrizi said.
Two more launches of the French Pleiades Earth observation satellite and a pair of Galileo in-orbit validation navigatoin spacecraft were expected before the end of the year, but those flights are likely to slip into early 2011.
In an interview with Spaceflight Now, Fabrizi said he anticipates the long-delayed HYLAS launch will occur well before the end of the year.
The most recent schedule slips were caused by the late delivery and construction of the launch pad's mobile gantry, a unique piece of equipment not used for Soyuz launches at the Baikonur Cosmodrome or the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and Russia.
The operations concept is drastically different than existing Soyuz preparation procedures, in which the rocket is fully assembled on its side, towed to the launch pad on a train, then lifted upright a few days before flight.
CNES, the French space agency, is overseeing the gantry construction with a team of European and Russian contractors.
Once the structure is topped out, officials are planning to add exterior panels and a maze of cables, plumbing and cranes for launch operations.
The Soyuz launch pedestals, fueling systems and umbilical swing arms were installed at the pad last year.