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Russia, France sign space deal

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Russia, France sign accord that would allow rocket launches at French site in South America

France and Russia signed an accord on Friday that is intended to pave the way for the eventual launch of Russian rockets from a French launch pad in South America.

The agreement, the first of its kind between Russia and a European Union country, is a step toward the launch of Russian Soyuz-ST rockets from the Kourou launch pad in French Guyana.

At a signing ceremony along with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Alyoshin, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the pact was ''a great step in economic and scientific cooperation.''

The agreement on Friday sets out the legal framework for the cooperation.

In coming weeks, the two countries are to detail the program with support from the European Space Agency, then discuss financing for a launch pad in Kourou for the Soyuz in December.

Claudie Haignere, a former astronaut who heads the French ministry of research, said the joint program, ''barring unforeseen circumstances,'' would cost $361 million.

In June, Russia and the ESA struck a deal toward preparing Kourou for the launch of Russian rockets for commercial launches starting in 2006.

Russia has hoped for access to Kourou because its proximity to the equator would let its rockets to carry heavier cargoes to higher orbits than those at a facility Russia leases from Kazakhstan.

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