Centre Spatial Guyanais
Centre Spatial Guyanais information
In 1964 Kourou was chosen to be the site of the Centre Spatial Guyanais because it's close to the equator, is away from tropical storm tracks and earthquake zones, and has a low population density. The center is run by CNES (Centre National d'Études Spatiales; www.cnes.fr) in collaboration with the ESA (European Space Agency; www.esa.int) and Arianespace (www.arianespace.com). Three launchers are also now in service, increasing the number of liftoffs to over a dozen per year; this frequency makes it that much easier to coordinate your visit with a launch.
The launch site is the only one in the world this close to the equator (within five degrees), where the earth's spin is significantly faster than further north or south; this means that the site benefits from the 'slingshot effect,' which boosts propulsion and makes launches up to 17% more energy-efficient than those at sites further away from the equator. Since 1980 two-thirds of the world's commercial satellites have been launched from French Guiana.
Visit the ESA website to find out the launch schedule and reserve a space at one of the observation points within the space center. Email email@example.com well ahead of time, providing your full name, address, phone number and age. It's free, but children under 16 are not permitted at sites within 6km of the launch pad and those under eight are not permitted within 12km. You can watch it, reservation-free, with locals at Kourou's beaches or at the Carapa Observation Site, 15km west of the city center.
Space junkies will love the free three-hour tours at the space center, which include a visit to the massive launch pad; phone ahead for reservations and bring your passport. Tour guides sometimes speak English or German; ask when you book.