Rocket payload fairings wash up in Barbados post launch from Guiana Space Centre (CSG), French Guiana

Barbados has always been the destination for things that drift across the Atlantic such as: Thor Heyerdahl’s Ra Expeditions , Dr. Alain Bombard, The loss of The Kent – a letter in a bottle story, The story of John Heller, Survivors arriving in Barbados in May 1942 from ships sunk by German U-Boats and British Ship: SS Scottish Star Torpedoed – 19th February 1942. The latest arrivals are rocket payload fairings launched from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG), French Guiana taking satellites into orbit. These payload fairings protect the satellites at launch while the rocket is in its lower orbit and are removed via a small contained explosion to expose the payload once the rocket passes what’s known as the Kármán line.

Soyuz payload fairing has a diameter of 4.11m and an overall length of 11.4m.

The Kármán line is an imaginary line 100km above the earth used as the border between the earth’s atmosphere and outer space, where there is no friction, so weight can be jettisoned to conserve rocket fuel.

Payload fairings from Soyuz flight VS13 launched from the Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana on 17th December 2015 washed up at Bathsheba about 48 days after launch.

In January 2020 more payload fairings arrived at Bath.  Initially we thought it was from Arianespace flight VA251 – the first launch of a rocket for 2020 from the Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana on 16th January 2020.  It turned out to be from Soyuz flight VS23 launched on 18th December 2019 – the last Arianespace mission of the first decade of the twenty first century.

Soyuz flight VS23 – Wednesday 18th December 2019

VS29 was the last Soyuz flight of 2019 launched on 18th December 2019 from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG), French Guiana.  It carried a payload of five satelites: the Italian Cosmo-SkyMed Earth-observation spacecraft, as the primary payload, the European Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite, CHEOPS, as its largest secondary passenger and three small hitchhiker nano satellites: ANGELS and EYESAT for the French CNES space agency; and OPS-SAT for Tyvak on behalf of ESA.

The ANGELS Nano Satelite was manufactured by hemeria whose logo was on one of the washed up fairings and some Russian Cyrillic script which helped to identify the mission.

Below are the Arianespace videos of the launch of Soyuz flight VS23 from the Guiana Space Centre on Wednesday 18th December 2019.  Scheduled fairing separation took place at 105km altitude, 190Km from launch at 2.32Km/sec.

Press Release: Soyuz Flight VS23 successfully launched on Wednesday 18th December 2019.  Launch had been planned originally for Tuesday 17th December but was delayed for 24 hours.

Arianespace’s last mission of the year a complete success: COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation, CHEOPS, OPS-SAT, EyeSat and ANGELS now in orbit

On its ninth and last mission of the year, Arianespace orbited innovative satellites that address the need for autonomy and reliable access to space by Italy, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales). It also served the ambitions of two young innovative companies: Tyvak and Hemeria.

COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation, the main payload on the mission, CHEOPS (Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite), and three auxiliary payloads, ANGELS, EyeSat and OPS-SAT, were successfully placed in orbit.

The launch took place on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 at 5:54 am (local time) from the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in Kourou, French Guiana (South America).

With this successful 23rd launch of the Soyuz medium-lift launcher from CSG, Arianespace has now launched a total of 159 satellites for European institutions, once again demonstrating the flexibility of its launcher family, comprising Ariane, Soyuz and Vega.

Following the launch, Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Israël said: “We are very proud to meet the needs of Italy, ESA and CNES on our ninth and last launch of the year. The success of this multiple satellite launch for our customers clearly shows that Arianespace’s launch services are perfectly adapted to the requirements of Europe, its agencies and ESA member-states. We also are very pleased to count two young innovative companies – Hemeria and Tyvak – among our partners. Based on our ability to provide high-performance launch solutions for all kinds of satellites, with our family of Ariane, Soyuz and Vega launchers, Arianespace actively supports scientific research, space exploration and the development of tomorrow’s space technologies.”

Arianespace continues to support the Italian space program
Arianespace’s launch of the COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation satellite, developed by Thales Alenia Space (Italy) for the Italian space agency ASI and the Italian Ministry of Defense strengthens Italy’s role in the Earth observation market.

Featuring a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) capable of observations under any weather or lighting conditions, COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation will set a new performance standard for space-based radar observation systems in terms of precision and image quality.

Today’s launch is the ninth mission by Arianespace for Italy, and the fourth for the Italian space agency ASI.

COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation is the 162nd satellite built by Thales Alenia Space to be launched by Arianespace. Five others satellites are in Arianespace’s order book.

Arianespace supports ESA’s Cosmic Vision program
The CHEOPS (Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite), satellite was developed within the scope of ESA’s scientific program, in partnership with Switzerland and several other member-states.

This is the first mission dedicated to studying exoplanets already identified (planets outside the Solar System). It will enable to better understand the formation process of these planets, ranging from “super-Earths” – planets with several times the mass of the Earth – to planets in the Neptune class. The data gathered by this satellite will give an idea of how the planets change orbit during their formation, and the evolution of their stellar system.

Airbus in Spain is prime contractor for the mission, with the University of Bern being responsible for the telescope Airbus coordinated a consortium of 24 companies (including seven from Spain) from 11 European countries to build CHEOPS. It is the 128th Airbus satellite to be launched by Arianespace, which has 21 more satellites from this partner in its launch backlog.

ESA has also chosen Arianespace for several upcoming landmark scientific missions, including the James Webb Space Telescope (on behalf of NASA) in mid-2021 and JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) in mid-2022.

CHEOPS represents the 74th ESA satellite and 52nd mission launched by Arianespace for the European agency.

OPS-SAT, EyeSat and ANGELS: Arianespace helps ESA and CNES develop innovative space solutions
The OPS-SAT cubesat, an auxiliary passenger, is the first satellite to be launched by Arianespace for the operator Tyvak, on behalf of ESA.

Tyvak offers access to space by providing end-to-end, cost-effective space systems using agile aerospace processes and accelerating on-orbit access for the small-, nano- and CubeSat categories of satellites. Tyvak International of Italy provided the deployer and launch service for OPS-SAT. Developed by the Graz University of Technology (Austria), OPS-SAT is the world’s first free-for-use in-orbit testbed for new satellite control software, applications and techniques.

EyeSat is the 16th satellite launched by Arianespace for French space agency CNES. Fitted with a small telescope, EyeSat, a 3U CubeSat, will study the zodiacal light and take images of the Milky Way. It is part of the Janus project, designed to encourage university and engineering school students to develop their own smallsats.

ANGELS (for: Argos Néo on a Generic Economical and Light Satellite) is a 12U CubeSat, and is the first nanosatellite wholly produced by French industry. It is jointly financed and developed by the French CNES space agency (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) and Hemeria – which is an affiliate of Nexeya, an innovative industrial group active in the aerospace, defense, energy, rail and automotive markets.

The satellite will be fitted with a miniaturized ARGOS Néo instrument, which is 10-times smaller than the equivalent previous-generation device. The instrument collects and determines the position of low-power signals and messages sent by the 20,000 ARGOS beacons now in service worldwide.

ANGELS is the 17th satellite launched by Arianespace for CNES and the first for Hemeria.

OPS-SAT, EyeSat and ANGELS are the 12th, 13th and 14th cubesats launched to date by Arianespace. With the new launchers Ariane 6 and Vega C set to enter service in 2020, plus new multiple launch systems – SSMS for Vega and MLS for Ariane 6 – Arianespace will expand its small satellite launch service offering.

Nine Arianespace launches in 2019
Today’s launch, VS23, is the ninth and final launch of 2019 for Arianespace: four with Ariane 5, three with Soyuz and two with Vega. Arianespace’s launcher family, comprising Ariane, Soyuz and Vega, orbited 24 satellites during the year, spanning a wide variety of space’s applications.

Source: VS23 Launch kit.

Soyuz flight VS13 – Wednesday 17th December 2015

Payload Fairing from Soyuz flight VS13 launched on Wednesday 17 December 2015 from Spaceport, French Guiana (also known as the Guiana Space Centre).
Picture source: Soyuz Arianespace

Launched on Wednesday 17th December 2015 Soyuz flight VS13 had a payload of two Galileo satellites: FOC11 and FOC12, hence the marking “ESA GALILEO SAT 11-12” on the payload fairing. You can also see the other logo “arianespace, service & solutions” which can be seen on the flotsam that washed up on the beach at Bathsheba, Barbados.

The two two Galileo satellites are part of a European Global Positioning System which will offer more advanced features than the ones currently operated by the USA and Russia.

Galileo is providing a global Search and Rescue (SAR) function, based on the operational Cospas-Sarsat system. Satellites are therefore equipped with a transponder, which is able to transfer the distress signals from the user transmitters to regional rescue co-ordination centres, which will then initiate the rescue operation.

At the same time, the system will send a response signal to the user, informing them that his situation has been detected and that help is on the way. This latter feature is new and is considered a major upgrade compared to the existing system, which does not provide user feedback.

For more information see: European Space Agency (ESA) Galileo system and Soyuz Medium Launcher.

Below is the Arianespace video of the launch of the two Galileo satellites FOC11 and FOC12 on Soyuz flight VS13 from the Guiana Space Centre on Wednesday 17th December 2015.  Watch out for shots of the fairing at position 13:03, 13:08, 13:12, 14:36, 21:54, 22.12 and scheduled fairing separation at 23:30.

With this mission the payload fairing separation took place at an altitude of 113km above earth at a distance of 250km from launch at a speed of 2.65km/s.

The washed up VS13  payload fairing is approximately 4m x 3m and after falling over 100km was still in good condition although the top part has broken off. Some of the wiring and sensors were still attached.  Some parts, however, had been removed by souvenir hunters!  What remains would make a great wall trophy.

Some background on Arainespace

Arianespace is a French joint stock company (“Société Anonyme”) which was incorporated on 26th March 1980 as the first commercial space transportation company. It is one of the international leaders in commercial launch services and today holds an important part of the world market for satellites launched to the geostationary transfer orbit.

Arianespace provides satellite launch services from its spaceport in French Guiana – Guiana Space Centre (CSG) to access to: Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO), Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) and interplanetary destinations.  The family of launch vehicles include:

  • Ariane 5 & Ariane 6 – the heavy lift workhorse for missions to GTO.  Ariane 5 is able to carry payloads of 10 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and over 20 metric tons into low-Earth orbit (LEO).  Ariane 6 – increases the payload from 10 metric tons to 11 metric tons.
  • Soyuz – tailored for medium weight payloads for low-Earth orbit and smaller GTO spacecraft. Soyuz is able to carry payloads weighing up to 3.25 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and 4.4 metric tons into Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).
  • Vega & Vega C – offers an affordable launch solution for small to medium missions to a range of orbits. Vega can carry payloads of 1.5 metric tons on missions to a 700km circular orbit. Vega C increases the payload capacity from 1.5 metric tons to 2.2 metric tons.

Arianespace is backed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the resources of its 21 corporate shareholders, France’s Space Agency (CNES) and Europe’s major aerospace companies, Arianespace combines the scientific and technical expertise of its European industrial partners to provide world-class launch services. Continued political support for European access to space and international cooperation agreements with Russia at state level ensure the long term stability and reliability of the Arianespace family of launch vehicles.

Click on the links below to read about the Arianespace family of launch vehicles operated from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG):

This was first published on in February 2016 as: “Payload Fairing from Soyuz flight VS13 washes up at Bathsheba 48 days after launch”. It was updated and republished in February 2020 as: “Rocket payload fairings wash up in Barbados post launch from Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana”.

Response to “Rocket payload fairings wash up in Barbados post launch from Guiana Space Centre (CSG), French Guiana”

  1. Jim Webster

    We had friends on a cruise ship that had left Barbados on Dec. 11th who saw the launch as their boat passed the northern coast of South America.

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