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20191126_French Guiana_0107 Kourou sRGB | by Dan Lundberg
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20191126_French Guiana_0107 Kourou sRGB

The rocket goes right over us on its way to geostationary orbit above the equator. The contrail is distorted by upper-atmosphere turbulence. Watching the twice-delayed (first for technical issues four days ago and then for upper-atmosphere weather at the next attempt) rocket launch has to be in lieu of tomorrow’s spaceport tour that got scratched from our itinerary as visitors are not allowed the day before, the day of, or the day after launches.


This 250th launch of an Ariane rocket, specifically an Ariane 5 ECA, is carrying two telecommunications satellites into geostationary orbit: the TIBA-1 for Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space on behalf of the Government of Egypt and the GX5 for Inmarsat.


The Guiana Space Centre (Centre Spatial Guyanais) became operational in 1968. Its location near the equator makes it more fuel-efficient for launching spacecraft into geostationary orbit above the equator, allowing larger payloads for any given sized rocket. The open sea to the east provides a safe place for lower rocket stages and debris from launch failures to fall. The spaceport is used for rocket launches by both governmental agencies—the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency CNES (National Center for Space Studies)—and commercial enterprises—Arianespace and Azercosmos (an Open Joint Stock Company wholly owned by the Government of Azerbaijan).


French Guiana (Guyane) is an overseas region of France. It is thus part of the European Union and uses the euro as its currency. Cayenne is the capital.


French merchants opened a trading center on the Guiana coast in 1624 but were thwarted by raids from the Portuguese (who were given this part of the New World by the Pope in 1494). France managed to establish a substantial presence in 1643 with the founding of La Ravardière (renamed Cayenne in 1777 likely because it sits at the mouth of the Cayenne River) but ultimately could not resist attacks from the native peoples. Enslaved Africans were imported to labor on large plantations growing sugar and other products. Slavery was first abolished in the 1790s during the French Revolution (a time when political opponents could find themselves deported to French Guiana) but became re-established in response to economic pressures as control shifted between the French, Dutch, English, and Portuguese Brazilians. France has maintained possession since 1817. The French government again abolished slavery throughout its territories on 27 April 1848 but the news did not arrive in French Guiana until 10 June (the date of the Abolition Day public holiday observed here since 2012). Without slave labor, the plantations collapsed. French Guiana became a penal colony with a network of camps and penitentiaries along the coast. Napoleon III decreed in 1852 that sentences greater than seven years were to be served in Guiana. In 1885 repeat offenders of minor crimes were added. The prisons were phased out in the decade following World War II. In 1965 President Charles de Gaulle established the Guiana Space Centre which today works with the European Space Agency as well as Arianespace for commercial rocket launches.


On Google Earth:

Guiana Space Centre 5°13'21.04"N, 52°46'24.67"W

Hôtel des Roches 5° 9'36.69"N, 52°37'38.52"W

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Taken on November 26, 2019