Isar launch site at CSG
Isar Aerospace expects to have a launch pad for its Spectrum rocket ready at the Diamant launch complex in French Guiana by the first half of 2024. Credit: Isar Aerospace

WASHINGTON — European small launch vehicle developer Isar Aerospace has signed an agreement with the French space agency CNES to launch its Spectrum rocket from French Guiana.

Isar said July 21 it signed a binding term sheet with CNES to launch from the Diamant launch complex at the Guiana Space Center, or CSG, near Kourou, French Guiana. The new pad, which will be in addition to one at Andøya, Norway, will host launches starting in the first half of 2024.

In an interview, Alexandre Dalloneau, vice president of mission and launch operations at Isar, said the second pad will allow for additional launches and serve orbits not accessible from Andøya, which can support launches to polar and retrograde orbits. The CSG pad will enable launches to orbits ranging from near-equatorial to polar.

“It’s a huge asset for us to have two different launch sites. In Europe, we are the only one,” he said. He added that it also allows Isar to be competitive with American companies like ABL Space Systems, Firefly Aerospace and Relativity Space that are developing vehicles similar in performance to Spectrum and have access to multiple launch sites.

The Diamant pad was built more than a half-century ago for the French rocket of the same name, but has been dormant for decades. CNES is now working to convert the facility into a multi-user site for small launch vehicles, and Isar is the first company the agency selected in an open competition to use the site.

CNES will provide common infrastructure, Dalloneau said, such as power, communications and plumbing. Isar will then construct a launch pad and assembly hangar there for its launches, with the potential for other companies to build their own launch facilities there.

The French Guiana site will be able to support up to 10 launches a year, the same as the company’s Andøya pad. That will depend in part on how many other launch providers set up at the Diamant complex, as well as other launch activity from Ariane and Vega pads at CSG. “I know that CNES wants to improve the capacity to launch from their launch complex,” he said. A flight rate of 10 per year, he said, appears feasible, “but it depends on the launch cadence of other launch providers.”

The CSG pad will be identical to the one at Andøya. “We don’t want to change the launch system,” Dalloneau said. “The operator inside the hangar to assemble the launcher will not know where he is. He will have to open the door to see if there is snow or tropical weather.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...