Watching Satellite Launch from Kourou
August 27, 2014 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Have you watched a space launch from Kourou in French Guiana? Do you have any tips for someone considering a visit?

For this question, let's assume I'm a member of the general public who's in the general area and might enjoy seeing a liftoff. And, that I might be able to adjust travel plans if there's a good chance of seeing one.

The Ariane website is a little coy about the possibility of invitations--is it worth asking? Or do invitations only go out to VIPs? There's a little more info on the Guyane Tourism site.

If you're not an invitee, how much can you see from a distance? Is/was it worth it?

How reliable are the launch schedules you see at various sites? Any speculation that tensions with Russia might cause particular launches to be postponed or cancelled?

General info appreciated, thanks.
posted by gimonca to Travel & Transportation around French Guiana (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Instead of "who is in the general area", let's say "who would be in the general area".
posted by gimonca at 8:27 AM on August 27, 2014

Best answer: I've seen and heard a Delta rocket launch from about 10 miles away from Kennedy Space Center. It was well worth it! Even if you can't get an invite to the Ariane launch center, getting to within a few miles of it should be worthwhile.
posted by monotreme at 9:07 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Delays are common on launches. Just scanning through Arianespace press releases:

Soyuz VS09 - Scheduled for 21 Aug, launched 22 Aug
Ariane 5 (ATV) - Scheduled for 24 Jul, launched 29 Jul
Soyuz VS08 - Launched on schedule (10 Jul)
Vega VV03 - Scheduled for 28 Apr, launched 29 Apr
Soyuz VS07 - Launched on schedule (3 Apr)
Ariane 5 - Scheduled for 21 Mar, Launched 22 Mar
Ariane 5 - Originally scheduled 23 Jan, launched 6 Feb

I think the "scheduled" date can change more dramatically in the months leading up to the launch as well, so you have to be pretty flexible about your trip to definitely see a launch.

It may well be worth trying to see it, but don't get your hopes up too much! I know people who tried 2 or 3 times to see shuttle launches and ran out of time every single time.
posted by leo_r at 9:41 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, in general, uncrewed launches are much more flexible, and that's all that goes up at Kourou. For the ATVs to the ISS, there's a very specific window they need to launch in for optimal orbital matching, so if they miss that window (as small as five minutes long) on one day it's a full day until the next one at least.

At this moment the space launch thing is pretty much unperturbed, as it has to do with longstanding contractual agreements and there's been a real attempt to segregate any political issues. I don't know if that will hold if Russia and Ukraine have a real shooting war, though, the chances of which look less likely every day but with all sorts of potential hair triggers out there still.

If you want more specific information the way to get it might be to look for launch photography on Flickr (or elsewhere) and contact the owner.
posted by dhartung at 12:50 PM on August 27, 2014

For planning purposes look at Spaceflight Now which has a regularly updated listing of planned missions from spaceports around the globe.

If you travel to the US info on US West Coast launches can be found at these two sites; Vandenbeg Air Force Base and Vandenberg AFB Launch Schedule.
posted by X4ster at 3:44 PM on August 27, 2014

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