Situated just north of the equator on the northeastern coast of South America, the Guiana Space Centre (Centre Spatial Guyanais or CSG) in French Guiana is one of the world's premier spaceports. Known for its proximity to the equator and open access to the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, it provides an unparalleled geographical advantage for space launches. The CSG, managed by the French space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), is also the primary launch site for the European Space Agency (ESA).
In the 1960s, France sought a more suitable location for its spaceport, initially located in Hammaguir, Algeria. They needed a site closer to the equator, with low population density and free from cyclones. French Guiana, a French overseas department, was the perfect candidate, and in 1964, the decision was made to establish the Guiana Space Centre there.
The first launch from CSG took place on April 9, 1968, when a French-built Diamant-B rocket lifted off from the site. Since then, the spaceport has hosted launches of various vehicles, including the Ariane series of launch vehicles, the Soyuz, and the Vega rocket.
One of the primary advantages of the Guiana Space Centre is its location near the equator. The rotation speed of the Earth is fastest at the equator, providing an additional “slingshot” effect, or boost, to rockets launched eastward, enhancing their payload capacity. This advantage translates into cost savings, as it requires less fuel to send a given payload into space.
Additionally, French Guiana's sparse population provides a safe environment for launching rockets. Most of the flight path for launches from CSG is over the open Atlantic Ocean, reducing risk to human lives and property in the event of a failure during launch.
The Guiana Space Centre is spread over a vast area, approximately 850 square kilometres. It includes multiple launch complexes, technical centres, a mission control centre, and facilities for preparing satellites and rockets for launch. Notably, it houses the ELA-3 launch complex, used for Ariane 5 launches, the Soyuz Launch Complex (SLC or ELS), and the Vega launch complex (SLV).
The CSG is known primarily for launching the Ariane series of rockets, developed by the multinational consortium Arianespace, a key player in commercial space launches. The heavy-lift Ariane 5, the medium Soyuz, and the small Vega rockets cater to a wide range of satellite masses and orbits, making CSG a versatile spaceport.
Work is also ongoing on the next-generation Ariane 6 rocket, with its first launch planned from CSG in 2023. This rocket is expected to provide more flexible and cost-effective access to space, keeping Europe competitive in the global launch services market.
The Guiana Space Centre is a significant contributor to the economy of French Guiana, employing around 1700 people directly and contributing to about 15% of the local GDP. It also stimulates the economy indirectly, as it attracts businesses and researchers from around the world.
The Guiana Space Centre, with its prime geographical location, advanced facilities, and a suite of versatile launch vehicles, is an important asset to Europe's ambitions in space. It not only acts as a gateway to space but also contributes significantly to scientific research, technological advancement, and economic prosperity.