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France’s CNES space agency begins work adapting commercial launchpad at French Guiana for specific startup rocket companies

Capitalism in space: France’s CNES space agency, which has taken back ownership of its French Guiana spaceport from Arianespace, has now begun adapting its new commercial launchpad there for a number of specific startup rocket companies.

In early 2021, the French space agency CNES announced plans to open up the Guiana Space Centre to commercial micro and mini-launch operators. The agency explained that it would be developing a multi-user launch pad on the grounds of the old Diamant launch complex. In July 2022, CNES announced that it had pre-selected Avio, HyImpulse, Isar Aerospace, MaiaSpace, PLD Space, Rocket Factory Augsburg, and Latitude to utilize the new launch complex.

During a media briefing following ESA’s 327th council meeting, Tolker-Nielsen explained that “general work” on the complex had already started and that work on “specific adaptations” was about to begin. These specific adaptations will be completed by the companies that will utilize the launch complex to ensure it fulfills the specific needs of their launch systems.

Of the seven rocket startups listed above, Tolker-Nielson said PLD was the ahead of the others in adapting the pad for its use, though no launch date is set. Avio meanwhile will likely not have to use this pad, as it owns the Vega family of rockets, which have already launched from French Guiana using another launchpad.

Some details about the other seven startups listed. Isar, Hyimpulse, and Rocket Factory Augsburg are all German-based, with the first having already completed a suborbital test out of Australia. Maiaspace is a subdivision of ArianeGroup, the company that builds the Ariane-6. Latitude is a startup building the smallest rocket of the group, with little information so far released about its progress.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.


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  • Sayomara

    I know you have talked about this before, but my memory is foggy. Is SpaceX allowed to launch from other allied Countries like France? I’m not sure they would want to but are they even allowed too? French Guiana isn’t a bad place to launch rockets.

  • Sayomara: SpaceX can launch anywhere it wants, as long as the spaceport has the facilities, and agreement has been made, and the company has obtained the proper FAA and FCC licenses.

    The only reason to choose other launchpads is if it will save the company money. It won’t.

  • Dick Eagleson


    Whatever the legalities – or illegalities – of potential launches by SpaceX from non-U.S. territory, it’s hard to see why SpaceX would be interested. The entire logistical tail of its Falcon 9 operations, for instance, is based on land transport via highways within the continental U.S. and near-constant shuttling of drone landing ships between ocean recovery zones and major U.S. ports. Kourou has some port facilities, and they are apparently suitable for the relatively low launch cadences of European rockets. But supporting even the current Falcon-series launch cadence would be quite beyond the capabilities of extant facilities there. Having to add significant port facilities is an expense SpaceX can certainly do without at this point in its Falcon program.

    As for future Starship operations, SpaceX will initially operate from Starbase and the KSC/Canaveral areas where it also has production facilities. Launching Starships from Kourou might be legally possible, but building them there is probably not owing to ITAR restrictions.

    SpaceX still appears to intend to eventually operate Starships from self-developed sea-based launch/landing facilities in addition to its land-based launch sites. These entities would be intrinsically portable. Thus SpaceX could move one to any at-sea location directly on the Equator should it wish to take maximum advantage of Earth”s rotation to maximize payload performance for any payload whose destination is equatorial Earth orbit.

    Bottom line? It’s hard to see what benefit SpaceX could derive by launching any of its rockets from the territory of any non-U.S. nation that would justify the extra trouble and expense. A number of nations, including Indonesia and Brazil, have, in the past, made overtures to SpaceX to site launch facilities in their territories. SpaceX has always politely turned them down.

  • GeorgeC

    I do wonder what steps are in place to keep China from recovering the under sea starship components. In this factory tour the word ITAR comes up more than once

  • Digital Night

    I’m curious, because I haven’t heard much on this since the BFR announcement, but would SpaceX have any interest in suborbital Starship launches for high speed around the world transportation? Things like US to Australia, Europe and Japan in an hour or less?

  • Edward

    Digital Night asked” “I’m curious, because I haven’t heard much on this since the BFR announcement, but would SpaceX have any interest in suborbital Starship launches for high speed around the world transportation? Things like US to Australia, Europe and Japan in an hour or less?

    We heard quite a bit about this potential market in the early years, but I have heard little about it recently. SpaceX may be focusing on other areas, at the moment. In fact we only occasionally hear about the goal of colonizing Mars, so they seem focused on the Falcons, Starlink, and Starship development, rather than on the eventual uses for Starship.

    If Starship is capable of taking as much to orbit as SpaceX hopes, it may very well be able to make the modifications necessary to have a successful point-to-point passenger or freight service.

    I can see the advertisement: “Starship from Tokyo to San Francisco. When you absolutely, positively have to get there yesterday.”

  • Digital Night: While not much has been said recently about point-to-point travel of Starship on Earth, SpaceX still has a five year Air Force military contract to study its use for transporting troops and equipment, signed in January 2022. It has also been in discussions with the Pentagon this year on the same subject.

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