Taking a prompt from a guide book, and spurred on because I was told it couldn't be done, I decided to see a launch of the Ariane rocket. The original plan was to ride from Macapa to French Guiana, Suriname and then Guyana, but I ran out of time and resorted to flying sans my F650...
Despite the difficulties with Penta airlines in Belem who conveniently lost my reservation, I made it to Cayenne on schedule. I was warned by Xavier and Isabelle that I'd be entering an expensive department of France, and after paying 23 Euro for the 17km taxi ride I was kinda nervous. Cayenne was hidiously expensive, the case in point being the Internet Cafe charge of 16 Euro per hour, that's approx 14 USD.
Ironically, French Guinana is officially the poorest part of France, although as Jaques Chirac said during his last visit, you'd never guess looking at all the expensive cars around. Isabelle's cousin described a mafia state riddled with corruption, yet funded by France and pretty much dependant on the satellite launch business. Wierd, expensive, and not reccmended for budget travellers. ( What was I doing here ?)
For an edible comparison, the Big Mac Index weighs in at 3.95 Euro, by far the most expensive McDees I've seen anywhere. The McChicken combo was 6.96 Euro, or 6.25 USD
Very pricey Mc Dees
On the eve of the launch we enjoyed a fantastic meal in a creol restaurant, and amused the other diners with a water fight at our table. Somehow this was necessary when it's a humid 33 celcius. We then tried to get some shut-eye until 00.20 hours for the launch rendezvous, quite hard three-up in a Renault Twingo with mosquitos diving on any exposed piece of skin...
Xavier, Isabelle, and me - front row seats, waiting for the countdown and figuring out what exposure to use...
The viewing site we got was one of the closer ones, at only 4.8 km from the launch pad. Security was tight, and there were plenty of soldiers to be seen lurking in the shadows en route. As the guide book says, there is something unique about a rocket launching out of the Amazon, and I found myself mouth gaping as this huge towering Ariane blazed up into the sky. It lit up surrounding clouds in a bright orange glow, and let out a deep crackling roar which shook everything around.
I got off three shots with my 300mm, but soon gave up and just admired the view like everyone else. The picture below comes courtesy of the Ariane web page, http://www.arianespace.com ,as my Sony Mavica just didn't have the legs...
Ariane Flight 152
Considering the whole viewing thing is free to those who register, it was very well organised, right down to the weather which bucketed down with rain 5 minutes after the final seperation. The launch vehicle was the older Ariane 4L, and it transported the newest Intelsat 905 satellite weighing 4.7 tonnes into orbit.
For the space nerds ;
> Maximum velocity attained : 9.7 Km/second , ( 35,000 Km/ hour)
> First stage engines burn 275 Kg of fuel per second, putting out 678 kN of thrust for 2.5 minutes. ( Thatīs Kilonewtons....)
>Thanks to the near equator location, the Ariane uses 25% less energy to leave the earths gravity as opposed to the shuttle
> The Ariane's first stage rockets emit only CO2 and water vapour...
> The Ariane Facility can make a launch every three weeks.
All of this was a "wow" experience that will take some topping, but you never know...
Different payload configurations at the Space Museum in Kourou
Would you believe Fiat had something to do with this???
A slightly 'doctored' view of an Ariane engine
For the plane spotters out there you'll be just as surprised as I was to see an Antonov 124 parked on the runway next the tiny Bandelier I was flying in. It was just huge....
David and Goliath....
One thing which puzzled me on the flight back to Manaus, was why the pilots needed TWO GPS units...., kinda made me wonder !
What's the theory here ?
Till next time....
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