Robin McKie

October 19, 2011

The French Guianan jungle will resonate to an unexpected noise on Thursday – the deep-throated blast of a Russian space rocket as it soars into the morning sky. The Soyuz launcher will be making its first flight outside the former Soviet Union, carrying two European navigation satellites into orbit.

A successful mission will bring considerable relief for Russia, whose engineers have grafted for six years to carve a £500m spaceport out of the sticky rainforest here on the coast of France’s colony in Guiana. A giant half-mile railway has been installed along with a gantry to protect rockets and satellites from the equatorial humidity and heavy rain.

Malaria and yellow fever are endemic in French Guiana and the building of Russia’s Sinnamary spaceport has been a colossal undertaking. The stakes are high, Russian and European space officials admit, because they want Soyuz, the most dependable space rocket ever built, to be used to ferry humans into space in a few years’ time. The new spaceport has been built with that goal in mind, using exactly the same launch techniques that Russia has perfected over the past 50 years.

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