MT LAUREL, New Jersey — Europe’s South American spaceport will resume launch preparations in late May under new protective measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The reopening of the Guiana Space Centre, which suspended operations in mid-March as part of France’s effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to allow Arianespace to resume satellite launches from there by mid-June.
The French space agency CNES said April 29 that 100 people will fly from Europe to the Guiana Space Center when France eases its nationwide lockdown May 11, and will start preparations for a Vega rocket launch May 25 after a precautionary 14-day quarantine.
Spaceport personnel will be required to observe “strict social distancing” before leaving mainland Europe, and to receive medical screenings upon flying into French Guiana’s Cayenne airport, CNES said.
Arianespace, the European company that launches from the Guiana Space Centre, said April 29 that the spaceport’s first missions would be a mid-June Vega launch previously scheduled for March, followed by an Ariane 5 launch in late July.
CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall said launches at the Guiana Space Centre shouldn’t require more time than in the past because of the coronavirus, but cautioned it will take time to know that fully.
“We should be back to routine operations one month from now,” Le Gall said in an interview.
Arianespace had 14 missions planned from the Guiana Space Centre this year, two of which were completed prior to the spaceport’s closure.
The March bankruptcy of Arianespace-customer OneWeb left eight Soyuz launches in limbo, but only two of those would have launched from the Guiana Space Centre. The other six were to launch from Russia and Kazakhstan. Le Gall said the Guiana Space Centre should be able to accommodate all eight of Arianespace’s other 2020 missions without issue, despite the coronavirus delay.
“We had some margins between the launches, so if everything is going well we will probably complete the launch program as it was planned early this year,” he said.
Spaceport personnel will be required to wear face masks while working, he said. Masks, spacing out workers and other safety steps should enable CNES to keep the spaceport running without a second interruption, he said.
Le Gall said the coronavirus has had a limited impact on completing the Ariane 6 launch pad, known as ELA4, because some of that work resumed April 21 with local staff. Launch pad work will return to normal after more people arrive in May, he said.
Le Gall said ELA4 should be completed in the second half of 2020. The biggest difference between ELA4 and the Ariane 5 launch pad is the introduction of a mobile gantry that will allow access to Ariane 6 up to the final minutes before liftoff, Le Gall said.