European Space Agency

Why does the European Space Agency launch from French Guyana? Is there no where in Europe that would be better suited? Also, I read that there are 2 associate nations. Canada was one but what is the other? And why is Canada in the European Space Agency?

Some possible reasons that the Ariane launch site is in Kourou, French Guiana rather than Europe:

  1. It’s close to the Equator. Since communications satellites generally require geostationary orbits (fixed in the sky), which have to be over the Equator, it takes less fuel to get there. That means smaller, lighter, cheaper rockets.

  2. It’s on a northeast-facing coast, with huge amounts of open water for failed rockets to fall into. That allows launches into orbits of any angular orientation desired. By contrast, launches from Cape Canaveral are constrained to a particular range by the topography of the US East Coast.

  3. There’s plenty of acreage for a comfortably-sized facility. Furthermore, I believe it was already owned by the French government (the Devil’s Island prison is nearby).

  4. There are few locals to complain about noise, pollution, etc.; they’re comfortably far away from the European press, and they make a nice living off it themselves.

  5. Despite the heat and humidity, there are more good-flying-weather days per year by far than in cold, rainy, cloudy Europe. Also, there is very little air traffic that has to be kept clear.

There were probably more reasons for the decision, but I think that adds up to enough advantages to offset the transportation/communication/remoteness issues.

Launch vehicles get a boost from the earth’s rotation, provided they are launched toward the east. The boost is greatest at the equator, only about half as great at 60º N or S latitude, and zilch at the north or south pole. Low latitude is not an absolute necessity, but it helps. The Russians don’t have too much difficulty launching their vehicles from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, at about 53º N latitude. In addition, there is also the fact that gravity is slightly lower at the equator, partly because it is offset by the rotation and partly because the earth is not a perfect sphere.