The 20th June 2019 at 6.43pm was the 248th satellites launch with the Ariane 5 launcher. As every Ariane 4 rockets, this one was launched from Kourou, in French Guyana. I was lucky enough to be in French Guyana for this moment. Thus, it was mandatory for me to be here and see this with my own eyes.
When are the rockets launched?
If you want to know when the next launch is scheduled, you just have to go to the Space Center website. However, during the rainy season (from October to April more or less), there is no rocket launch because of the weather. Indeed, the high winds and storms are major reasons to cancel a launch.
You can assist to launch during the summer. The launches are frequented, between 1 or 2 per month.
Where is it possible to observe a launch?
In fact, you can see the rocket in the sky everywhere in Kourou. However, there are observation sites where you can see everything: from the engines start at the ground until the rocket is in the sky and you can’t see it with your eyes anymore. The easiest way if you don’t have a car, is to go to the site which is offered by the Space Center. Their access is free. You just need to book in advance on the Space Center website. Then you go to the Space Center at least one hour before the launch and buses will take you to the observation site you booked.
If you have a car and you want to go to another observation site than the Space Center, I advise you the Monkeys Mountain. I watched the rocket launch from this place. From the car park, you have to walk around 20 to 30 min in the forest and at the top of the mountain, there is a carbet. You can see the Space Center and the carbet is a shelter if it rains. However, don’t forget to take a flashlight with you. The launch is usually around the sunset or during the night. Thus, when you go back to your car, it will be night already and you won’t see the path without light.
How long does it last?
According to the type of satellites which are launched, the precision of the schedule is different. In my case, it was telecommunication satellites and the launch window lasted 2h. The launch was scheduled at 6.43pm, so we could wait until 8.43pm to see the show. However, for other satellites, it is not possible to have delay: either the rocket takes off on time, either the launch is postponed.
Once the launch is started, you can admire the spectacle during more or less 4min. In fact, to position the satellites on their final place, you have to wait 45min. It is only after 45min that we know if the launch is a success or not.
Ariane, Vega, Soyuz?
From Kourou, you can see 3 different types of launchers: Ariane, Vega, and Soyuz. I am not going to explain the technical differences between the 3 types of launchers. But, the main difference comes from the owner: Ariane is European, Vega is Italian and Soyuz is Russian. The launchers don’t have the same aspects and their launches are different too. However, according to what I heard, the most impressive is Ariane’s launch. Thus, if you can choose your dates in Kourou according to the launch, I advise you to choose Ariane.
The Space Center
The visit of the Space Center is free. All you have to do is to book 48h in advance and to take your ID with you during the visit. The tour lasts around 3h. You visit the launch pad (if there was no launch few days before) of Soyuz and Ariane 5. You can even see the construction of Ariane 6, the next European launch pad. After, you visit the two control rooms: the “technical” contrôls for the electricity, mechanic, etc. and the general controls (the one you see in the movies) for the weather, the security, etc.
The visit ends next to the space museum on the Space Center site. If you wish to learn more about the space and the conquest of space, note that at the end of the tour, you can have a discount for the museum (4€ instead of 7€).
I hope you like this article and now you want to visit the Space Center and see a rocket launch! Do you dream to one too? Or is it already done? What were your impressions?