Friday, January 21, 2005

Soyuz to be launched from Kourou

A landmark deal between Russian and the EU, will see a new era of cooperation between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency.

Further it was claimed that this deal did not mean Russia's immediate entry into the ESA. What is puzzling about this declaration is why would Russia be interested in such a deal. In space, Russia is aeons ahead of the ESA both in terms of past performance and current capability. The ESA has funds, which Russia lacks, but it would be naive to believe that Russia space exploratory efforts would be sponsored by European funds, unless perhaps Russia merges into the EU and there is a greater integration of their economies among other things.

As part of the current deal, the ESA's spacecraft launching facilities at Kourou, in French Guyana, will be upgraded to facilitate a Soyuz launch. Currently Russia launches the Soyuz from Baikonur in Kazakhstan as it does not have a cosmodrome on its own territory (a legacy of Stalinist policies in the days of the Soviet Union). So this gives Russia an important alternative launch pad at little additional cost. The cost of this project is put at around 344 million Euros, and Russia will contribute just over one third of that total. The first Soyuz launch from Kourou is tentatively scheduled for Dec 2006.