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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France to Launch Soyuz Rockets

APA Russian Soyuz rocket lifting off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome.
PARIS -- France and Russia signed an accord Friday that is to pave the way for the eventual launch of Russian rockets from a French launch pad in South America.

The agreement, the first of its kind between Russia and a European Union country, is a key step toward the launch of Russian Soyuz-ST rockets from the Kourou launch pad in French Guiana.

At a signing ceremony along Deputy Prime Minister Boris Alyoshin, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the pact was "a great step in economic and scientific cooperation."

The agreement sets out the legal framework for the cooperation. In coming weeks, the two countries are to detail the program with support from the European Space Agency, then discuss financing for a Kourou launch pad for the Soyuz.

Claudie Haignere, a former astronaut who heads the French research, said the joint program, "barring unforeseen circumstances," would cost 314 million euros ($361 million).

In June, Russia and the ESA struck a deal toward preparing Kourou for the launch of Russian rockets starting in 2006.

The pact announced Friday is part of a broad EU-Russian partnership that calls for the improvement of existing launchers, then the building of new, reusable launchers starting in 2010.

Russia has hoped for access to Kourou because its proximity to the equator would let its rockets carry heavier cargoes to higher orbits than those at another facility Russia leases from Kazakhstan.