The now (as of 2003) decommissioned Ariane 4 launch pad. To the left is the moving protection building which shielded the rocket from weather during launch operations. To the right is the tower containing the umbilical fuelling and power lines, as well as a lightning conductor. In the centre foreground is the rocket transport vehicle which moved the upright rocket from the assembly buildings to the pad. The round structure behind is the water tower used for cooling and acoustic dampening on launch.
The Ariane 5 pad is about half a kilometre to the left of this photo. The new Vega launch pad, under construction as of 2007, is obscured by the umbilical tower. The Soyuz pad is being constructed several kilometres further north from here. The assembly buildings are to the south, behind the camera.
The Guiana Space Centre or, more commonly, Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) is a French and European spaceportnear Kourou in French Guiana. Operational since 1968, it is particularly suitable as a location for a spaceport as it fulfills the two major geographical requirements of such a site:
- it is quite close to the equator, so that the spinning earth can impart some extra velocity to the rockets for free when launched eastward, and
- it has uninhabited territory (in this case, open sea) to the east, so that lower stages of rockets and debris from launch failures cannot fall on human habitations.
The European Space Agency, the French space agency CNES, and the commercial Arianespace company conduct launches from Kourou. This is the spaceport used by the ESA to send supplies to the International Space Stationusing the Automated Transfer Vehicle.
The location was selected in 1964 to become the spaceport of France. When the European Space Agency (ESA) was founded in 1975, France offered to share Kourou with ESA. Commercial launches are bought also by non-European companies. ESA pays two thirds of the spaceport’s annual budget and has also financed the upgrades made during the development of the Ariane launchers.