Soyuz Prepares for its South American Debut

Both Soyuz launchers currently at the Spaceport are shown inside the MIK Launcher Integration Building. The #2 Soyuz now has its four first-stage strap-on boosters installed on the central core. Next to it is the other Soyuz, which was built up earlier this year with the integration of its first, second and third stages – and is installed on the transporter/erector rail car. (Credit: Arianespace)


The second of two Soyuz launchers in French Guiana is undergoing assembly as part of regular maintenance checks that are standard for the Russian-built vehicles in storage awaiting liftoff.

In activity at the Spaceport’s new Soyuz Launcher Integration Building – known by its Russian “MIK” designation – this vehicle’s four first-stage strap-on boosters have been integrated with the Block A core second stage, allowing propulsion system pneumatic testing to be conducted while the vehicle is installed in horizontal jigs.

Separately, its Block I third stage is undergoing parallel checkout inside the MIK, clearing the way for integration with the launcher next week. When this basic three-stage Soyuz is completed, it will undergo combined electrical testing, followed by disassembly for a return to the storage mode, according to Jean-Claude Garreau, who will be Arianespace’s Launch Site Operations Manager for the initial Soyuz mission from French Guiana next year.

The Block I upper stage for the #2 Soyuz is shown in the MIK, ready for its integration on the newly-assembled launcher. (Credit: Arianespace)

Once Soyuz operations begin at the Spaceport in 2011, such assembly of launchers in the MIK will become routine. Completed three-stage vehicles will be installed on a transporter/erector rail car for transfer of these horizontally-integrated Soyuz vehicles out to the launch pad.

In a major difference from the long-running Soyuz launch operations at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, vehicles at the Spaceport will arrive at the launch pad and be erected before receiving their upper composite – consisting of the pre-integrated mission payload, the Fregat upper stage and payload fairing. This final phase of assembly activity will occur on the launch pad, protected inside a mobile gantry that has been developed specifically for Soyuz missions at French Guiana.

The Spaceport’s initial Soyuz launcher was assembled earlier this year in the MIK, and currently is installed on the transporter/erector. It will be used in early 2011 for evaluations in which the Soyuz is transferred to the Spaceport’s launch pad.

View the 2010 Soyuz & Vega at the Spaceport archive.

Soyuz and Vega: By the Numbers

  • The Soyuz launch vehicle has been in continuous production since 1957, demonstrating its unmatched reliability with more than 1,700 missions to date.
  • Vega is scheduled to enter operation in 2011 with a target payload lift capability of 1,500 kg. on missions to a 700-km. circular orbit.