Ariane 5 rocket on Kourou launch pad
Arianespace  /  Reuters
An Ariane-5 rocket is seen on the Kourou launch pad in French Guyana on Feb. 12. Kourou's proximity to the equator allows rockets to carry heavier cargoes to higher orbits.
updated 4/12/2005 3:13:10 PM ET 2005-04-12T19:13:10

Russian and French space officials signed a $448 million deal Monday to build a new South American launch pad for sending Russian rockets into space.

The deal includes terms for cooperation in planned launches of Russian Soyuz rockets from France's Kourou launch pad in French Guyana, on the northeastern tip of South America, starting in 2008.

Russia has pushed for access to Kourou because its proximity to the equator would allow Russian rockets to carry heavier cargoes to higher orbits. Russia currently launches manned rockets from a launch pad in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan.

The equator is the line at which the Earth moves the fastest, helping propel rockets into space while using less fuel, which allows them to carry heavier payloads.

Arianespace said it had already signed its first contracts for Soyuz launches with government and commercial customers.

Russia's cash-strapped space program has worked closely with the European Space Agency in recent years, launching ESA satellites and carrying ESA astronauts on research missions to the International Space Station.

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