April 14, 1964
Owner / Operator:
Government of France
Kourou, French Guiana
2 m (6.5 ft)
The Guiana Space Centre or Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) is the primary launch facility for the European Space Agency (ESA). Founded in 1964, the facility has hosted launches of the Europa-II, Ariane 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, and the Vega. Additionally, the site has seen a number of launches of the Russian-built Soyuz rocket under the Russo-European joint venture.
Located just 500 kilometres (310 miles) north of the equator, the Guiana Space Centre allows operators to deploy payloads into orbits with an inclination of as low as ~6°. In comparisons, payloads launched from a site like Cape Canaveral can’t be deployed into an orbit with an inclination less than ~28.5°. As a result, if a satellite’s required inclination is lower than that, the launch vehicle requires more fuel to get it there once in orbit. This, in turn, results in vehicles launching from sites like Cape Canaveral offering significantly small payload capacities than they would if the same vehicle launched from the Guiana Space Centre.
The first launch facility built at the Guiana Space Centre was the launchpad ELA-1. The pad was built in the 1960s to launch the Europa-II rocket. However, after just one launch on November 5, 1971, the programme was cancelled. With the development of the Ariane 1 during the 1970s, ELA-1 was demolished and then rebuilt to support the new rocket. It’s maiden launch from the new pad on December 24, 1979, deployed the CAT-1, the first artificial satellite launched by the ESA. ELA-1 would later support launches of the Ariane 2 and 3 before being retooled to launch the Avio Vega.
With the development of the Ariane 4 and 5, two additional launchpads were added to the Guiana Space Centre in the 1980s and 1990s. ELA-2 hosted one Ariane 2 and two Ariane 3 launches before being exclusively used for the Ariane 4. 116 Ariane 4 missions were launched from the launchpad between 1988 and 2003. The maiden Ariane 5 mission was launched from ELA-3 on June 4, 1996. Since then, over 100 Ariane 5 mission has been launched from the pad.
Today, Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz rockets are launched from the Guiana Space Centre’s ELA-3, ELA-1 and ELA launchpads respectively. Additionally, the new ELA-4 launchpad is currently under construction. This pad will be utilised to launch the ESA’s next-generation Ariane 6 rocket.