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Old 04-07-2011, 08:20 AM   #1
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Default European Soyuz Must Pass Final Exam Before October Debut

European governments’ $800 million investment in importing Russia’s Soyuz rocket to Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport faces several weeks of grilling by outside experts starting in mid-July to determine whether the system is ready for flight.

A Qualification Committee composed of experts from the French and European space agencies and from Russian industry — none of them with direct involvement in the project — will judge the project’s fitness in a series of reviews to begin July 19 and to last until mid-September.

Without clearance from this committee, the Soyuz rocket will not make its scheduled Oct. 20 inaugural flight, during which it is scheduled to carry two European Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites.

Marie Jasinski, head of the Soyuz program at the French space agency, CNES, conceded it might sound odd that the Qualification Committee’s evaluation is beginning after the “keys” to Soyuz were transferred from CNES and the European Space Agency (ESA) to the Arianespace commercial launch consortium during a well-publicized May 7 ceremony at the French Guiana launch facility.

The transfer ceremony occurred after a dry run of Soyuz liftoff that occurred the first week of May and included the simulation of a launch countdown and the post-liftoff tracking of a telecommunications satellite.

In a briefing here June 21 during the Paris air show, Jasinski said the Soyuz program, in which the French government has financed about 55 percent of the total cost, was organized so that what she termed the “Soyuz final exams” would occur after the simulated launch and the transfer of responsibility to Evry, France-based Arianespace.

“You can look at the Qualification Committee and our presentation to it as a final exam during which we will be asked to demonstrate the validity of what we have done over the past six years,” Jasinski said. “The committee is made up of outside people, and they will be examining the entire program, with a special focus on the differences between the [Guiana Space Center] and the traditional Soyuz launch sites at Baikonur and Plesetsk.”

The Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia have been launching Soyuz rockets for decades.

Rocket experts agree that Soyuz is in a class by itself compared to other vehicles, having launched more astronauts, space-station cargo and satellites than any other rocket. The 1,773rd Soyuz liftoff occurred June 27 from the Plesetsk facility.
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