The Associated Press
updated 10/6/2003 9:28:44 AM ET 2003-10-06T13:28:44

Russia and France said Monday they had agreed to launch Russian Soyuz rockets from the Kourou cosmodrome in French Guiana, potentially cutting launch costs.

KOUROU, ON THE northeast coast of South America, is closer to the equator than Russia’s usual blast-off base at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. The closer the pad is to the equator, the cheaper the launch.

“An accord in principle has been agreed in a document that will serve as a legal base for the use of Kourou,” French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov.

Cash-strapped Russia’s space resources have been squeezed since February when it became the only country to launch manned flights and supplies to the International Space Station after the United States grounded its shuttles.

The United States stopped shuttle flights after the Columbia disintegrated over Texas, killing all seven astronauts on board.

Russia has started sending space tourists to the station at a fare of $20 million to help cover the cost of building new Soyuz craft.

France will pay half of the 300-million-euro ($345 million) cost of the project, while the rest will come from the European Union, Itar-Tass news agency reported. Russia will contribute ”material assets.”

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