ESA agrees to space launcher co-operation with Russia

The European Space Agency ESA will collaborate with Russia on the development of future launchers and will also build a launch pad at Kourou, French Guiana for Russian Soyuz rockets.

The European Space Agency (ESA) will collaborate with Russia on the development of future launchers. The space agency will also build a launch pad at Kourou, French Guiana for Russian Soyuz rockets, following approval for the co-operation at a meeting of the ESA council.

Franco Bonacina, ESA spokesman, explained that the green light for Russian involvement in the Future Launchers Preparation Programme (FLPP) would in the future give ESA access to Russian technology and expertise, while ensuring it has a range of launch vehicles.

‘The Russians can provide hardware and expertise for Soyuz facilities at Kourou. They remain very good at liquid propulsion. The Soyuz will be our launcher between the Vega rocket and Ariane 5 EC-A.’

Construction of the Soyuz launch pad will cost around e344m (£217m), with ESA providing e223m and commercial launch firm Arianespace adding a further e121m.

The Soyuz used at Kourou will be a new version, and its launch is scheduled for 2006.

Vega is ESA’s new launcher for payloads of up to 2.5 tonnes for polar and low-Earth orbit, due to make its maiden flight in 2006.

The ESA meeting also confirmed the next qualifying flight of the 10-tonne launcher, the Ariane 5 EC-A, will be held in June.

The summer launch follows engine improvements made after a nozzle failure ended the last Ariane 5 EC-A flight in December 2002. The Ariane 5 EC-A is the heavy variant of the Ariane 5 Generic, and should be capable of putting 10 tonnes into geostationary Earth orbit at an altitude of 36,000km.

The Council also approved e960m for the European Guaranteed Access to Space initiative, to ensure continued work on the Ariane 5.

The meeting followed a European Commission decision giving the go-ahead for the global monitoring for environment and security network. This is a series of joint EC-ESA initiatives, including the Galileo satellite navigation system, which will provide observation services, including disaster, pollution and security aids using space-based and ground sensors and a comprehensive communication network.