Guiana Space Centre

Thursday, 21st May 2009 by

The European Space Agency is a collaboration between 18 European states with the simple aim of "exploring space" and yesterday they announced their first new recruits to the Astronaut Corps in more than a decade.

The European Space Agency's spaceport is Guiana Space Centre, located just off the coast of South America in French Guiana. The location is ideal for space rocket launches due to it being only 500km from the equator, which means the rockets get an extra boost from the rotation of the earth1.

The focal point of Guiana is the Ariane rocket launcher, a 52m tall tower surrounded by four 90m high lightning rods. The concrete foundation features three "flame trenches" to contain the fire from the launching boosters, and the adjacent water tower delivers 30,000 litres of water a second to cool the launch pad during take off.

The Ariane launcher is used frequently for launching communication satellites and science experiments. Already this year Guiane has launched two Ariane-5 rockets, the most recent of which was just last week, when the Herschel Space Observatory was put into orbit.

In fact, demand for satellite launches at Guiane is so great that the former Ariane-1 launch site has been adapted for launching Vega, the ESA's new small-size launcher.

Elsewhere on the compound we also find the Booster Engine Test Stand, a 200m long, 60m deep pit where boosters can be safely fired.

There's plenty more to explore at Guiana, I recommend turning on the Google Earth Community layer to see information about all the different buildings.

The six new recruits to the Astronaut Corps will certainly have their time to explore, as their rigourous training is leading up to a first space journey in 2013 at the earliest.

  1. A far-from-insignificant increase of 460m / second! ↩︎