September 26, 2023

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French Guiana, an unexpected part of South America, became Europe’s gateway to space

French Guiana, an unexpected part of South America, became Europe’s gateway to space

On April 4, 2017, Europe’s door to space is closed When a few angry protesters entered the premises kourou spaceport A cry of “Nou bon ke sa” (“We’ve had enough”, in French Guiana Creole).

“We’re not going to move. We want the crores we have demanded,” demanded a leader of the movement. Emmanuel Jean-BaptisteFor space center officials, The main launch pad of the European Space Agency (ESA). Second busiest place in the world after Cape Canaveral.

The European Space Program is being vetted, and it’s like a real hostage negotiation. France recognized Up to 2.1 billion euros in emergency funding soon To fund conservation projects, education, health and aid institutions French Guiana. Although the sum was less than the unions wanted, the offer ultimately represented a small victory and power for the remote region of South America. For at least 24 hours, it held a significant portion of Europe’s soft power.

Grove Space Station

“If you want society to listen to your pleas, you touch where it hurts,” he reflected at the time. In conversation with Country Italian engineer Stefano Bianchi, responsible for launcher development at ESA, took center stage.

The climax was part of the episode A very broad social demand In this French Foreign Ministry, Actually no connection with mainland France. There, the unemployment rate is three times higher than in France, GDP per capita is almost three times lower, the homicide rate is 14 times higher and the infrastructure is more dangerous. The cost of living is also high due to the need to import most goods and EU tariffs on neighboring Brazil and Suriname. For all these reasons the people of Franco Guyana organized a general strike at the end of March with full road blockades and daily demonstrations, which resulted in food shortages in supermarkets, closure of schools and public buildings and All rocket and satellite launches scheduled for that month and the following month are cancelled.

“Relations between Guyana and France have deteriorated due to France’s lack of willingness and real commitment to invest in the development of Guyana, which continues to face the same economic and social injustices year after year,” he explained. Nation French Guiana MP Davy Rimane from La France Insoumise party.

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The question then arises: How did this dangerous and remote field of less than 300,000 people become home to some of the world’s most advanced technology?

Map of Kourou Space Center

Since Louis XIV colonized the South American territory, French Guiana has served as a prison, a cemetery, and a source of gold extraction. But its recent history is marked by another type of wealth: Nature.

It all started in 1962 Algerian independence. Although this event in Africa seems to have nothing to do with it, it marks the end of use of the Hamaguier base, from where France launched all its missiles into space, and therefore had to start the search for a new location. It was then that eyes fell on French Guiana, which had relinquished its colonial status almost 20 years ago and was fully integrated into the European nation.

It was an ideal location for launching due to its perfect natural conditions: Equator, open ocean to the east and its location free of hurricanes and earthquakes.

The base became operational in 1968, with the launch of a Veronique sounding rocket, and seven years later, France offered to share the base with the newly formed European Space Agency (ESA).

Number of launches per year and success of missions from Kourou Space Station

Currently, Kourou is in the middle Space stations with the highest percentage of successful launches. European Ariane rockets have been launched from here since 1979, and Vega since 2012. A collaboration that was interrupted as a result of the war in Ukraine.

It has become a space station A cornerstone of the Guyanese economy: Its activity is about 15% of GDP Almost halved since 1990, mainly due to the expansion of other sectors—and giving Direct and indirect employment for 10% of the active population From Guyana.

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After the 2017 episode, rumors about the spaceport began to revolve around another thorn issue: Energy.

Kourou’s energy requirement is monumental; Absorbs 20% of French Guiana’s electricity, According to the ESA. About half of that energy is used to cool buildings, while solid and liquid propulsion processes take up the rest. The annual bill is several million euros, the company maintains, without providing further details.

France plans to reduce costs and dependence on the electricity grid Build two bio power plants in 2024 and 2025. Pretends Promoting the development of biofuels for the aerospace industry. According to EU rules, bioenergy production that meets sustainability criteria is considered carbon neutral and qualifies for large subsidies.

Deforestation in French Guiana

The problem is that there is more and more consensus in the scientific community Harmful effects of bioenergy – Even meets stability criteria in the atmosphere. A growing body of evidence Indicates the entire process Burning wood emits more carbon dioxide than natural gas, oil and coal.

“By this, I do not argue that these sources are good, but rather that, even if it is negative, burning wood is bad or even worse”He says Nation John Sterman, director of the MIT System Dynamics Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

The evidence justifies this: burning wood is less efficient due to the higher water content and higher emissions in the supply chain, mainly due to the need to dry the pellets.

Only when felled trees or harvested land grows back will all that CO2 be gradually removed from the atmosphere. But still Forest growth is uncertain and takes years Scientists say the world will not have to avoid the worst impacts of global warming – for more than a century. In the case of crops, growth is fast, but it poses other problems such as the diversion of crops for energy production in an environment of widespread land availability and global food insecurity.

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That is why Sterman, who has delved into the effects of bioenergy and contributed to the development of the N-Roads forecasting model, is a fierce critic of EU and British energy policies. “This is a lie”, promising. “They mistakenly assume that tree growth occurs immediately elsewhere, which is not true. Citizens of the EU and Britain pretend to make climate change worse with these subsidies to private companies.”.

The European Union took note, in the latest revision of its Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) this year A few steps to gradually reduce the proportion of primary tree biomass – Coming directly from the forest – It is considered as renewable energy. However, volume A Exception For outlying areas including French Guiana.

“The cancellation is intended to allow the area to maintain biomass production as it is an important resource for the development of the region.”Riemann explained.

This European Space Agency photo shows the Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Jupiter moon rover Juice from the European Space Station in Gouro, French Guiana, Friday, April 14, 2023. (AP via AES)

However, environmentalists argue that this leads to Increase in deforestation. Biofuelwatch, an NGO, has calculated that around 5,300 hectares of land would have to be cleared over a 20-year period, even if crops such as soybeans were used as fuel.

“How to authorize the creation of an exception to clear the only area in Europe with a large tropical forest?”Marine Calmette, a lawyer and member of the Maiuri Nature Guyane Association, lamented while pointing out the hypocrisy of France, which organized an international summit in March to help protect three tropical rainforests. the world

The government of French Guiana did not respond to a request for comment Nation A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said about the status of the biomass plant project or plans to develop biofuels for the space industry. These plans tend to divide the population and are still under discussion with France.

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