Coordinates: 5°13′20″N 52°46′25″W / 5.22222°N 52.77361°W / 5.22222; -52.77361

Guiana Space Centre
Centre spatial guyanais

Panoramic view of Guiana Space Centre
Agency overview
Formed14 April 1964 (1964-04-14)
JurisdictionGovernment of France
HeadquartersKourou, French Guiana, France
Employees1,525 direct (2011)
7,500 indirect (2011)
Agency executive
  • Didier Faivre, director
Parent agencyESA/CNES
Map of Guiana Space Centre
Detailed map

The Guiana Space Centre (French: Centre spatial guyanais; CSG), also called Europe's Spaceport,[1][2] is a European spaceport to the northwest of Kourou in French Guiana, a region of France in South America. Operational since 1968, it is particularly suitable as a location for a spaceport because of its equatorial location and open sea to the east.

The European Space Agency (ESA), the French space agency CNES (National Centre for Space Studies), and the commercial companies Arianespace and Azercosmos conduct launches from Kourou.[3][4][5] It was used by the ESA to send supplies to the International Space Station using the Automated Transfer Vehicle.


The location was selected in 1964 to become the spaceport of France.[6][7] In 1975, France offered to share Kourou with the ESA.[6][7] Commercial launches are also bought 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.

On 4 April 2017, the centre was occupied by 30 labour union leaders in the midst of the 2017 social unrest in French Guiana, but was taken back on 24 April 2017.[8]


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Vega launch pad in 2017
Vega launch pad in 2017
Ariane 5 final assembly building
Ariane 5 final assembly building
Ariane 6 pad in 2019
Ariane 6 pad in 2019
Soyuz-2 mobile service tower and flame trench
Soyuz-2 mobile service tower and flame trench
Kourou ESTRACK station antenna
Kourou ESTRACK station antenna

The Guiana Space Centre is considered to have a desirable location for a spaceport because of its geography:

Kourou is located approximately 500 km (310 mi) north of the equator, at a latitude of 5°. It is a common misconception[citation needed] that the main advantage of launching a rocket from the equator is the extra boost provided by the speed of the Earth's rotation. For example, the eastward boost provided by the Earth's rotation is about 463 m/s (1,520 ft/s) at the Guiana Space Centre, as compared to about 406 m/s (1,330 ft/s) at the United States east coast Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center spaceports, which are at 28°27′N latitude in Florida. This means that rockets need around 60 m/s more delta-v to reach low earth orbit (LEO) from Cape Canaveral, which is an insignificant disadvantage.[9][10]

In reality, the main benefit of Kourou is that the near-equatorial launch location provides an advantage for launches to low-inclination (or geostationary) Earth orbits compared to launches from spaceports at higher latitude. This is because rockets can be launched into orbits with an inclination of as low as ~6°. The lowest inclination a rocket from Cape Canaveral could be launched to is 28.5° (the latitude of Cape Canaveral). Inclination change burns already require significant amounts of delta-v, so needing to change inclination by 28.5° seriously affects a rocket's capability to send satellites into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). As a result of these phenomena, similarly sized Proton and Ariane 5 rockets can send similar payloads to LEO. However, the Proton, launched from high latitudes in Russia, can only send 6,270 kg to GTO while a Kourou-launched Ariane 5 can send more than 10,000 kg to GTO.[11][12]


Main article: ELA-1

Originally built in the 1960s under the name of Base Équatoriale du CECLES (English: ELDO Equatorial Base), the pad located at 5°14′10″N 52°46′30″W / 5.236°N 52.775°W / 5.236; -52.775 was designed for the Europa-II launch vehicle. One Europa-II was launched from the site in 1971, which ended in failure due to a guidance problem, before the programme was cancelled.[13]

The pad was demolished, and subsequently rebuilt as the first launch complex for Ariane as ELA (French: Ensemble de Lancement Ariane). Redesignated later as ELA-1, it was used for Ariane 1 and Ariane 2 and 3 launches until being retired in 1989.[14]

In November 2001, it was refurbished again for the Vega rocket and renamed ELV (French: Ensemble de Lancement Vega). The first launch was performed on 13 February 2012.[15]


Main article: ELA-2

The ELA-2 pad (French: Ensemble de Lancement Ariane-2), located at 5°13′55″N 52°46′34″W / 5.232°N 52.776°W / 5.232; -52.776, built in 1986, had been used for Ariane 4 launches from 1988 until 2003. Before 1988, although purpose-built for Ariane 4, the pad hosted a Ariane-2 and two Ariane-3 launches. The complex consisted of two areas: the launcher preparation zone and the launch pad itself, separated by one kilometer, allowing a launcher to be assembled in the preparation zone while another launches from the pad. A mobile service tower at the launch pad provided a protected environment for payload installation and final preparation of the rocket.[16] In September 2011 the pad's service tower was demolished using explosives.[17]


Main article: ELA-3

ELA-3 (French: Ensemble de Lancement Ariane-3) has been active for Ariane 5 launches since 1996 (Ariane 501). This facility is located at 5°14′20″N 52°46′05″W / 5.239°N 52.768°W / 5.239; -52.768 and covers an area of 21 km2 (8.1 sq mi).[18]


ELA4 is located along the Route de l'Espace in the Roche Christine site at 5°15′45″N 52°47′27″W / 5.26258°N 52.79074°W / 5.26258; -52.79074, between ELA-3 and ELS launch facilities. CNES was responsible for the construction of the Ariane 6 ground segments including the new launch pad. Earthworks on the 150 hectare launch site began at the end of June 2015 and was completed at the start of 2016. Four platforms were leveled to accommodate the launch pad, the liquid oxygen and hydrogen tanks and the assembly building. Civil engineering works on the flame trench and other buildings began in the summer of 2016 and ended in 2019.[19][20] The new launch facility was inaugurated on 28 September 2021 with first flight of the Ariane 6 scheduled in 2022.[21]

ELS / Soyuz at CSG

Main articles: Ensemble de Lancement Soyouz and Soyuz at the Guiana Space Centre

ESA has built ELS (French: Ensemble de Lancement Soyouz) at 5°18′18″N 52°50′02″W / 5.305°N 52.834°W / 5.305; -52.834 for launching Russian-built Soyuz-2 rockets. The first Soyuz launch from ELS was postponed several times, but launched on 21 October 2011.[22]

ELS is located on the territory of Sinnamary commune, 27 km (17 mi) from Kourou harbor.[23] It is 10 km (6.2 mi) northwest of the site used for the Ariane 5 launches. Under the terms of the Russo-European joint venture, ESA will augment its own launch vehicle fleet with Soyuz rockets — using them to launch ESA or commercial payloads — and the Russians will get access to the Kourou spaceport for launching their own payloads with Soyuz rockets. Russia will use the Guiana Space Centre in addition to Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Guiana location has the significant benefit of greatly increased payload capability, owing to the near equatorial position. A Soyuz rocket with a 1.7 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) performance from Baikonur will increase its payload potential to 2.8 tonnes from the Guiana launch site.[24]

The ELS project is being co-funded by Arianespace, ESA, and the European Union, with CNES being the prime contractor. The project has a projected cost of approximately €320 million, where €120 million are allocated for modernizing the Soyuz vehicle.[25] The official opening of the launch site construction occurred on 27 February 2007. Excavation work however, had previously begun several months beforehand.

On 13 September 2010, Spaceflight Now reported that after several delays in the construction of a mobile gantry the launch pad had been finished, and the first flight of the Soyuz was expected to occur in early 2011.[26] By October 2010, 18 launch contracts had been signed. Arianespace has ordered 24 launchers from Russian industry.[27]

On 21 October 2011, two Galileo IOV-1 and IOV-2 satellites were launched using a Soyuz-ST rocket, in the "first Russian Soyuz vehicle ever launched from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana."[28]

Final assembly building

Astrium assembles each Ariane 5 launcher in the Launcher Integration Building. The vehicle is then delivered to the Final Assembly Building for payload integration by Arianespace.[29] The Final Assembly Building is located 2.8 km (1.7 mi) from the ELA-3 launch zone. The mobile launch table completes the trip with an Ariane 5 in about one hour. It is then secured in place over the launch pad's flame ducts.[30]


Ariane IV launched from the Guiana Space Centre on 10 August 1992.
Ariane IV launched from the Guiana Space Centre on 10 August 1992.
An Ariane 5 lifts off from Kourou on 29 August 2013.
An Ariane 5 lifts off from Kourou on 29 August 2013.
Sentinel-2A launch on Vega on 23 June 2015.
Sentinel-2A launch on Vega on 23 June 2015.
Soyuz rollout to ELS pad on 9 October 2012.
Soyuz rollout to ELS pad on 9 October 2012.
Ariane 5  flight VA256 lifts off from Kourou with the James Webb Space Telescope on 25 December 2021.
Ariane 5 flight VA256 lifts off from Kourou with the James Webb Space Telescope on 25 December 2021.

Launch safety

Fire safety is ensured by a detachment of the Paris Fire Brigade, a branch of the French Army. Security around the base is ensured by French Gendarmerie forces, assisted by the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment of the French Foreign Legion.[citation needed] Before and during launch windows, CSG facility security is significantly enhanced by anti-personnel and anti-aircraft measures, the exact configurations of which are classified by the French military. All entrants to the launch complex are also subject to checks for proof of permission to enter the facility.[citation needed]

The Guiana Space Centre (as per CNES) also contains the Îles du Salut, a former penal colony including the infamous Devil's Island. Now a tourist site, the islands are under the launching trajectory for geosynchronous orbit and have to be evacuated during launches.

Early launches

Recent launches

Launch statistics

As of 25 December 2021[49][50]

As of 2017, Kourou counts amongst the spaceports with the highest percentage of successful launches, both successive and overall. Here is a chronology of all orbital launches from the Kourou spaceport since 1970, under the French and European space programmes.

Flights by launcher


In development:      Ariane 6    Active:      Ariane 5       Soyuz ST       Vega   
Retired:      Diamant       Europa 2       Ariane 1       Ariane 2       Ariane 3       Ariane 4

Flights by mission outcome


  Success     Failure     Partial Failure     Scheduled

Charts include all orbital launches from Kourou; sounding rockets are excluded.
Historical data: launch tables from List of Ariane launches, Soyuz ST, Vega and Encyclopedia Aeronautica.

See also


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  4. ^ "ESA at Europe's Spaceport". European Space Agency. ESA.
  5. ^ "Arianespace at Europe's Spaceport". European Space Agency. ESA.
  6. ^ a b "Installation of the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana" Archived 1 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Guiana Space Centre official website
  7. ^ a b "Europe's Spaceport" Archived November 26, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. European Space Agency official website
  8. ^ "Guyane : le Centre spatial guyanais occupé par des manifestants" (in French). La Croix. 5 April 2017. Retrieved 5 April 2017.
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  13. ^ "EUROPA II (1971)". CNES. 21 August 2019. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
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  18. ^ "Europe's spaceport". ESA.
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