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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Rockets to Fly From Equator

ReutersRoskosmos chief Perminov, right, and his European counterpart Dordain shaking Wednesday on the cooperation deal in Moscow.
After more than six years of trying, the Federal Space Agency, or Roskosmos, finally won approval Wednesday from the European Space Agency, or ESA, for launches of a modern version of its industry workhorse from a strategically located French complex in South America.

The terms of the long-awaited deal, signed by Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov and his European counterpart Jean-Jacques Dordain in Moscow on Wednesday, call for both sides to jointly build a new launch pad and other infrastructure on French Guyana's Kourou Island.

The island's proximity to the equator will allow Soyuz-ST to carry a greater payload than other versions of the rocket can from the bases Roskosmos currently uses in northern Russia and Kazakhstan.

"The realization of this project will give Russia the possibility to substantially expand ... the use of the Soyuz rocket launchers in the world market," Roskomos said in a statement.

The two agencies also signed a more general agreement on the joint development of new launch vehicles and reusable rocket engines.

Roskosmos put the cost of the Kourou project, which Russia started negotiating in 1998, at 344 million euros ($447 million.) Most of the money will come from the ESA, while Roskosmos will be responsible for supplying rockets and ground-control infrastructure.

The first Soyuz-ST launch from French Guyana is expected in 2007 or 2008.

Once limited to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz program expanded to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Arkhangelsk, where the first rocket was launched in November.

The manufacturer of the Soyuz-ST, Samara-based TsSKB-Progress, plans to boost production 50 percent this year as global demand grows. The state-owned company plans to assemble a total of 15 Soyuz launch vehicles, including Soyuz-U and Soyuz-FG modifications this year, up from 10 in 2004.

Roskosmos has worked closely with the ESA for years, launching satellites and carrying astronauts to the International Space Station, a program that accounts for the bulk of TsSKB-Progress' business.

The Russian government orders four Progress cargo ships and two Soyuz-TMA crew ships from the company for use in the program each year.