Russia suspends Soyuz launch operations in French Guiana – Spaceflight Now

A Soyuz ST-B rocket launches February 10 from the Guiana Space Center carrying 34 new OneWeb internet satellites. Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/P. piro

Blaming European sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s space agency said on Saturday it was recalling dozens of engineers and technicians from French Guiana and suspending operations of Soyuz rockets there, causing a pair of European navigation satellites previously scheduled for launch in early April.

The decision, announced by Russia’s space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin, also calls into question the long-term future of the Soyuz launch base at the Guiana Space Center, a European-operated spaceport on the northeast coast of South America.

Russian teams prepared a Soyuz rocket and a Fregat upper stage for April 5 launch from the spaceport near Kourou, French Guiana, with two European Galileo navigation satellites. The two European satellites and their Russian launch vehicle have already been delivered to the space center, but the preparations require the expertise of Russian crews.

“In response to EU sanctions against our companies, Roscosmos is stopping cooperation with European partners in organizing space launches from the Kourou Cosmodrome and withdrawing its technical staff, including the consolidated launch crew, from French Guiana,” Rogozin tweeted on Saturday.

The Soyuz launch base in French Guiana became operational in 2011 under a collaborative agreement between Roscosmos and the European Space Agency. Since then, 27 Soyuz rockets have been launched from the Guiana Space Center and have carried Galileo navigation satellites, commercial communications and Earth observation payloads, space science missions, and French and Italian military satellites.

French Guiana is a French overseas department, which means that the spaceport was built on the territory of a NATO country. The Soyuz launch pad in French Guiana is European-owned and French launch service provider Arianespace oversees launch operations at the site.

It took three years and cost European governments $800 million to develop Soyuz launch capability in French Guiana.

The European Union this week announced new sanctions against Russia targeting Russian companies and defense contractors after the Russian military invaded Ukraine. On Friday, the EU announced it would freeze all of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s European assets.

According to Roskosmos, 87 Russian citizens are currently in French Guiana preparing for the planned Soyuz launch in April. They are employees of NPO Lavochkin, which makes the Fregat upper stage, and Progress Rocket Space Center, builder of Russia’s Soyuz rocket. There are also Guiana Space Center employees from TsENKI, a Russian company that provides ground infrastructure and support services for space missions.

“The issue of leaving Russian employees is being worked out,” Roscosmos said.

File photo of processing of Soyuz rockets at the MIK integration hangar at the Guiana Space Center. Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/P. Baudon

Launched in April, another Soyuz rocket carrying two additional Galileo navigation satellites was scheduled to lift off from French Guiana later this year. The Galileo network is Europe’s independent space-based global navigation system, an analogue of the US military’s GPS fleet, the Russian Glonass system and the Chinese Beidou navigation constellation.

Galileo satellites are already broadcasting navigation signals to users around the world. More than 2 billion smartphones have been sold with Galileo-enabled chipsets, allowing users to locate themselves using navigation signals from Galileo satellites alongside data from the GPS network.

During the last launch of the Galileo system in December, the 27th and 28th operational Galileo satellites were deployed on a Soyuz rocket. The Galileo program is a multi-billion dollar initiative managed by the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, a separate body from ESA.

The full Galileo constellation requires 30 satellites, including 24 active platforms and six spare satellites. Launches later this year with Soyuz rockets were scheduled to complete full network deployment, but that timeline is in doubt as Soyuz operations are suspended.

After this year, future Galileo satellites are due to be launched on European Ariane 6 rockets to upgrade the system and replace legacy spacecraft. The debut of the Ariane 6 rocket has been delayed, and its first launch is scheduled for late 2022 at the earliest. Once Ariane 6 flies, ESA and

When fully operational, the Galileo network will provide users with independent navigation fixes without requiring GPS signals. Since both networks are available, the combination of Galileo and GPS data can give users a more accurate position estimate.

Other missions booked for launch from French Guiana using Soyuz rockets include the French military’s CSO 3 optical spy satellite and the EarthCARE climate science mission for the European Space Agency.

ESA’s Euclid telescope, designed to study dark energy and dark matter, will also be assigned to a Soyuz launch from French Guiana next year.

Arianespace and ESA did not respond to questions about the future of Soyuz launches in French Guiana, but ESA issued a statement on Friday – before Roscosmos said it would suspend Soyuz operations at the Guiana space center – and said it was checking “possible consequences for the ongoing activities of ESA”. ” caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In this photo ahead of a December launch, two European Galileo navigation satellites are prepared for attachment to their Russian-made Fregat upper stage at the Guiana Space Center. Photo credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – P. Baudon

“ESA is committed to continuing the work of all of its program activities, including the ongoing ExoMars launch campaign, to ensure their successful implementation where possible,” the agency said.

The ExoMars mission is a joint program of ESA and Roscosmos. The first element of the ExoMars mission was a European-built science orbiter launched to Mars by a Russian Proton rocket in 2016.

The next part of ExoMars is a European rover that is scheduled to be taken to the surface of the Red Planet next year by a Russian-built entry vehicle and lander. The ExoMars rover is scheduled to launch in September with another Russian Proton rocket.

The mission architecture requires close cooperation between Russia and Europe, with Russia being responsible for takeoff and landing. ESA’s rover carries most of the scientific instruments, including payloads provided by NASA.

NASA said Thursday that new U.S. sanctions on Russia announced by President Biden will have no immediate impact on the International Space Station, another program that requires close international cooperation between Western nations and Russia.

Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency, also said Saturday that Roscosmos would end cooperation with NASA on the Venera-D project, a planned robotic exploration mission to Venus. He said the partnership’s continuation was “inappropriate”.

Arianespace also manages commercial Soyuz rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia. The next of those missions is scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan on March 4, carrying 36 more satellites for OneWeb’s global internet network, and officials have announced any delay for that launch.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @Stephen Clark1.

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