SAMARA, Russia

A contract ordering the builder of Russia’s Soyuz rocket to provide four vehicles to be launched from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport is expected to be signed the week of June 18 at the Paris air show

, according to Russian and European industry officials.

A. Baranov, deputy general director of the Samara Space Center, prime contractor on the Soyuz, said the first two of those rockets are already under construction. The Samara Space Center builds the Soyuz rocket’s first two stages and four strap-on boosters here.

said Soyuz production takes about 20 months. The first launches from the European site are scheduled for early 2009.

Speaking to reporters here May 28, Baranov and other officials from the Samara Space Center said they are making almost no modifications to the vehicle, whose latest version was qualified for use following launches in late 2006.

But these officials said they had bowed to French government demands that a manual launcher-destruct capability be added to the Soyuz’s existing automatic on

board self-destruct system.

The French government will be the legally responsible government authority for Soyuz launches from the Guiana Space Center, which is in French Guiana – French territory.

and other officials at the Soyuz production facility here showed visible irritation at the requirement, saying the current Soyuz safeguards have triple redundancy and needed no additional feature.

“We have been using a triple-redundancy safeguard system since the early days of Soyuz,” Baranov said. “The on

board software stops the vehicle’s engines in the event of a danger. It is completely automatic and has never failed. But we will do as the French government has requested, even though we are sure that no French launch director will ever react more quickly than the automated system already in place.”

Soyuz launches from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the PlesetskCosmodrome in northern Russia follow trajectories that take them

over relatively unpopulated areas.

The same will be true of Soyuz launches from the French Guiana spaceport, from which

rockets fly

over the ocean, but population centers are nearby and French authorities have always insisted on a manual destruct system.

The last time French officials came close to using the destruct command came in June 1996, when the inaugural flight of Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket sharply deviated from its planned course just seconds after launch. But even in this case, the rocket’s own self-destruct system activated before ground controllers had time to deliver their own order.

One European industry official said the irritation of Samara production managers is understandable. “These guys have built more than 1,700 Soyuz vehicles over some 50 years, they launch cosmonauts and satellites and they have the world’s best reliability record,” this official said. “They don’t readily accept the constraints that come from operating in a completely new environment. We get these kinds of remarks from Samara all the time.”

European Space Agency (ESA) governments in May 2003 agreed to finance a Soyuz launch pad at the Guiana Space Center to add a

medium-lift capability to complement the heavy-lift Ariane 5 and the lightweight Vega vehicle, set to make its first launch in 2008.

ESA governments have agreed to spend 223 million euros ($300


to build the Soyuz launch pad from scratch in the Amazon jungle. The Arianespace launch consortium of Evry, France, which will be marketing

Soyuz rockets launched from the new pad, has agreed to pay 121 million euros to complete the program’s financing.

Arianespace has received a credit from the European Investment Bank for its financing, and will be reimbursing the bank from revenues earned from Soyuz launches.

Launched from French Guiana, which is near the equator, the Soyuz rocket in its ST-B version will be able to carry a 3,150-kilogram telecommunications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit. The same rocket operated from the BaikonurCosmodrome has a maximum payload capacity of slightly less than 2,000 kilograms into the same orbit.

Arianespace Chairman Jean-Yves Le Gall said the Soyuz production contract to be signed at the Paris air show reflects the terms and conditions agreed to by the European and Russian space agencies in 2003. “These are binding conditions,” Le Gall said when asked if the Russian side might arrive at the Paris air show with stiffer pricing terms. “I expect no surprises. This is really only a formality.”