Space: Russias Tropic Thunder

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September 24, 2008:  The European Union (EU) has agreed to buy another ten Russian Soyuz satellite launchers, for about $35 million each. These will be launched from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch facility in South America (Kourou, French Guiana). This complex is close to the equator, and thus can put more weight in orbit than the same launcher operating at higher latitudes. The ESA spent some $400 million to build a launch pad for the Soyuz. This expansion was caused by the ESA facility has more work than it can handle. The Russian Soyuz, while old, is reliable (1700 launches) and cheaper (by about 25 percent) than any of the Western launch vehicles ESA has used. Within two years, there will be 3-4 Soyuz launches a year from Kourou, and the first one will take place this year. France built this launch facility in the late 1960s, and began sharing it with the ESA. Since then, there have been nearly 200 launches from this site.

 


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