On Monday, 6 October 2003, Russian Prime Minister MikhaÔl Kassianov and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin finalised an agreement that will see the Russia Soyuz rocket launched from the European spaceport in Kourou.

The Russian rockets will be transported to French Guyana, in South America, by French “river-sea” boats, announced Rosaviakosmos spokesman Sergey Gorbounov. “The rockets will be moved in pieces as it is impossible to transport them fully assembled by ship,” he said. In addition, some Soyuz components will be packed in special containers and loaded onto the boats on railcars. According to Gorbounov, the Russians are confident that the French ferries can do the job, making it possible to transport two complete disassembled launchers at once, saving both time and money.

The decision on the project comes after resolution of a number of technical and economic matters. The European Space Agency (ESA) played a key role in the negotiations.

The space centre at Kourou has already identified a launch site at Malmanoury, six kilometres from the Ariane-5 launch pad. It may now take up to three years before the technical preparations are complete.

The Soyuz launcher, an offspring of the R-7 ballistic missile, is the most used and the most reliable launcher in the world, with some 1700 launches of satellites or manned flights since the first Sputnik was put into orbit in 1957 and since the first man, Yuri Gagarin, was sent into space in 1961. Since 1996, the Franco-Russian company, Starsem, has been marketing the Soyuz launcher, which is routinely launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.