Arianespace’s first Soyuz launch from French Guiana: the success in photos
Soyuz’ maiden flight from the Spaceport today introduced this medium-lift launcher into Arianespace’s family of vehicles and delivered two Galileo navigation satellites into a highly accurate medium-Earth orbit.
The following photo report details the activities from final countdown to liftoff at the Spaceport’s new ELS launch site near the town of Sinnamary. (Click on the images for a larger version):
Fueling of the Soyuz began at four hours before liftoff, following authorization from a State Commission meeting that included the participation of Arianespace. Soyuz is fueled inside a purpose-built mobile service gantry, which also allows payloads to be integrated while the launcher is in its vertical position. This vertical integration is one of the primary differences from Soyuz operations at its two other launch sites: the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
The 52-meter-tall mobile gantry makes its roll-back to the parked position, which began at one hour before liftoff. Soyuz is suspended in position over the massive reinforced concrete launch pad by four support arms with counterweights. Visible at left are the umbilical masts that service the Soyuz’ Block A core stage, its Block I third stage, as well as the Fregat upper stage and the vehicle’s payload of two Galileo satellites.
The Soyuz launcher is fully revealed as the service gantry continues its rollback to the parked position 80 meters away from the launcher. For its maiden flight – designated VS01 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering sequence – Soyuz lofted a total payload of 1,580 kg., which included 1,400 kg. for the two Galileo satellites, plus the mass of a new dispenser system that carried the payloads in a side-by-side arrangement for simultaneous deployment.
This photo captures Soyuz at the moment of liftoff. Its four primary support arms have begun to open outward with Soyuz’ upward movement at liftoff. This decreased the loads and allowed the four arms to pivot outward as they are pulled away by their base counterweights.
Climbing away from the launch pad, Soyuz is powered by the thrust of its four first-stage boosters and central core second stage. The boosters were separated 1:58 seconds after liftoff, while the core stage was jettisoned at 04:48 into the flight. Distortion on the camera lens is caused by drops from a rain shower that moved through the launch zone during the final seconds of countdown and the liftoff.
The inaugural Soyuz mission had a duration of 3 hours 49 minutes from liftoff to deployment of the two Galileo satellites. Prior to the launch, Arianespace already had signed 14 firm payload contracts booked for missions with the medium-lift vehicle at the Spaceport. The second Soyuz mission from French Guiana is scheduled for December 16.