SAMARA, August 25 (RIA Novosti) - The first launch of Russia's Soyuz-ST carrier rocket from the Kourou space center in French Guiana has been scheduled for the beginning of April 2010, general director of the Progress design bureau said on Tuesday.
Soyuz-ST is a modernized version of the Soyuz-2 rocket developed by the Samara-based Progress design bureau specifically for launches from Kourou.
"Next year at the start of April we must ensure the first launch of a Soyuz-ST [carrier rocket]; the first three rockets are ready," Alexander Kirilin said, adding that a ship carrying two rockets will leave the port in St. Petersburg on November 1.
The Kourou launch site is intended mainly for the launch of geostationary satellites. Its proximity to the equator will enable the Soyuz-ST to put into orbit heavier satellites than those launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan and Plesetsk in northern Russia.
Russia's Federal Space Agency Roscosmos and French satellite launch firm Arianespace signed a contract last year to launch 10 Russian Soyuz-ST carrier rockets from a separate launch pad near Sinnamari, a village 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the site used for the Ariane-5, the main European-made booster.
The contract is estimated at $300-$400 million and stipulates at least three launches per year.
Rene Pischel, head of the European Space Agency's (ESA) office in Russia said on Tuesday that the construction of the spaceport for Soyuz launches at Kourou is in its final stages and a supply tower is currently being assembled.