PARIS — The French and European space agencies signed a five-year contract March 29 valued at 438 million euros ($570 million) giving the European Space Agency (ESA) access to the Guiana Space Center spaceport through 2017.
The contract, which had been approved by ESA’s 20 member governments in November, was signed by ESA Launcher Director Antonio Fabrizi and Bernard Chemoul, the Guiana Space Center’s director for the French space agency, CNES.
CNES officials say they have succeeded in reducing the operating cost of the Guiana spaceport, on the northeast coast of South America, by organizing competitions for much of the work.
Located near the equator and providing launch trajectories over the water for liftoffs to the north and east, the spaceport’s geographic location is viewed as ideal for launches of most types of satellites to geostationary, near-polar or other orbits because the rockets do not overfly populated territory.
The spaceport is operated by CNES, ESA and the Arianespace launch consortium. Long a one-product facility, it is now home to three vehicles — the heavy-lift Ariane 5, Russia’s medium-lift Soyuz and the new Vega small-satellite launcher.
CNES and ESA officials hope that the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-nation European Union, eventually will be persuaded to help finance the spaceport by classing it as a critical European infrastructure.