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Russia, France strike deal for 10 new Soyuz launchers

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MOSCOW (BNS): Russia will supply 10 new Soyuz launch vehicles to European commercial space launch consortium Arianespace.

The $500 million deal was signed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Francois Fillon in southern Russian city of Sochi Saturday.

The Soyuz launchers are expected to be used next year in the European Union's Galileo satellite navigation programme. There was a requirement for two different launch systems for the programme to develop a parallel to widely used Global Positioning System (GPS) of the US.

French space agency Arianespace would use its own Ariane 5 launchers along with Soyuz rockets to carry different satellites at a time. The Galileo programme would need 30 satellites to be placed into space.

The agreement was signed between Arianespace and Russian space agency Roskosmos.

The rockets would be launched either from Guiana Space Center in French Guiana or the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

A statement from Arianespace said the Soyuz launcher would be operated along with the Ariane 5 heavy launcher and the Vega light launcher. Arianespace, the world's leading launch service and solutions company, uses different types of rockets.

The company has 23 shareholders and is backed by the European Space Agency. It has launched 263 payloads and has a backlog of 25 Ariane 5 and 10 Soyuz launches, in other words, three years of business.

Soyuz is expected to have a separate launch pad near Sinnamari in French Guiana. The place is located near the site used for Ariane-5 launch. The officials said three or four Soyuz launchers could be launched annually by 2010.

France and Russia have active cooperation in space applications. Otherwise, Moscow is not comfortable in dealing with the western powers and sees them with suspicion. The relations worsened recently over the Georgia issue.

Kremlin is unhappy the way western powers led by the US were meddling in the affairs of the Caucasus, inciting regimes against Moscow. It blames US for creating an atmosphere of uncertainty in the region.

But the signing of the space agreement shows that Russia and France have put aside differences over Georgia. "We will conduct with Russia a direct and tight dialogue of true partners," said Francois Fillon at Black Sea resort of Sochi.

"Differences happen, indeed, but they should be resolved through a dialogue," he told before going into the meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

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