UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Baikonur Cosmodrome
45.9 N 63.3 E, TYURATAM

Baikonur was the first cosmodrome in the world and to this day it remains the largest. It was from here that the first rocket, with the dogs Belka and Strelka, was launched. Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into space after launching into the cosmos from here. After the collapse of the USSR, Baikonur ended up in a different country – Kazakhstan. Russia continues to lease the facilities. In 2004 the presidents of the two states signed an agreement extending the contract through 2050.

In 2007 Russia decided to build a cosmodrome on its own soil. The new site for the ambitious plans will become the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur Region in Russia’s Far East. Many await the completion of its construction. The Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) is waiting, as are those that dedicated their life’s work to Baikonur.

The Vostochny Cosmodrome is supposed to ensure Russia’s independent access to space. In time it is slated to become a major center for space research and create new opportunities for the development of the Russian Far East and give a new impulse to the Russian space industry. However, the date for the cosmodrome’s opening keeps getting pushed back and the process itself is accompanied by scandals tied to the waste and embezzlement of construction funds.

Overview, Supporting Facilities and Launch Vehicles of the

Soviet Space Program *

The 1971-1975 study

The Baikonur Cosmodrome (also known as Tyuratam) is the oldest space launch facility in the world. In the 1950's, the Soviet Union announced that space launch operations were being conducted from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Some concluded that this facility must be near the city of Baikonur, Kazakhstan. In truth, the launch facilities are located 400 km to the southwest near the railhead at Tyuratam.

The Soviets built the city of Leninsk near the facility to provide apartments, schools, and administrative support to the tens of thousands of worker at the launch facility. The first man­made satellite to orbit the Earth was launched from here. This site has been the source of all manned Soviet and CIS launches and of most lunar, planetary, and geo-stationary orbit launches. Due to range safety restrictions at other launch sites, Tyuratam is the only site that can launch satellites directly into retrograde orbits. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has claimed ownership of the facility. Most of the skilled workers and the military forces protecting some of the facilities are, however, Russian. (1)

The largest and most versatile of the Soviet launch sites is near the rail stop village of Tyuratam in Kazakhstan at about 45.6° N. latitude, 63.4° E. longitude. The Russians call it the Baykonur Cosmodrome, although it is about 370 kilometers southwest of the station stop of that name on quite a different railway line. It originally may have been thought that by giving contradictory information about the cosmodrome, the Russians would maintain some element of doubt in the Western world, since the town of Baykonur is on the correct ground trace of the early Soviet flights which were at 65° inclination. To this day the Russians pinpoint the launch pad for manned flights as being at 47.3° N. and 65.5° E. which is patently false in light of conclusive public evidence of initial revolution ground traces and known launch times. Presumably based upon Soviet data, the NASA press kit for the Apollo-Soyuz "Test Project lists the launch site as being at 47.8° N. and 66° E. This does not square with NASA Landsat photographs and the visits and descriptions supplied by NASA visitors to this launch site. (2)

Tyuratam was first accurately placed in public announcements by the optical studies of Professor Tadao Takenouchi in December 1957 following his observations of Sputnik 1 and 2. (3) The American trade press continued for some years to report the launch site as being in European Russia, until the Russians themselves announced it was in Kazakhstan (albeit at false coordinates, at the time of the Gagarin flight in 1961.)

Tyuratam was the site from which the first Soviet ICBM's were fired, all the early Sputniks, all manned flights, all lunar and planetary flights, the earlier communications satellites, all the fractional orbit bombardment system (FOBS) and military inspector flights. It is also the area from which all heavy payloads put up by the Proton "D" type launch vehicle. Presumably when the largest Soviet launch vehicle is brought into use, the same site selection reasons will recommend Tyuratam as the logical place for its launch.

In effect, Tyuratam is the Kennedy Space Center (Eastern Test Range) of the Soviet space program.

The first good look at the immediate launch site of the standard launch vehicle was provided by a 1967 movie giving an historical review of the Soviet program during the previous ten years. Those fairly sweeping panoramic views fit consistently with the carefully cropped or pointed views which had been released piecemeal in previous years. Earlier the Russians had disclosed that the historical marker for Sputnik 1 was beside the pad used for manned launches, one more factor confirming the loner term use of both the same pad and the same first stage for missions from Sputnik 1 through Soyuz 19, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) flight. For a long time no outsider could get to the launch site. President De Gaulle was taken there in June 1966 to see the launch of the first acknowledged weather satellite (Kosmos122), accompanied only by his personal physician. In 1970, President Pompidou saw the launch of a military observation satellite (Kosmos 368) which carried a supplemental scientific payload. Finally, in connection with the upcoming ASTP flight, three parties of American astronauts and technicians were flown in at night, put up in a hotel, driven to the launch pad, and then were returned to their hotel for another night flight out.

In the meantime, low resolution pictures made public by NASA routinely to anyone interested showed that the Landsat 1 views of the Tyuratam area were covered with roads, railway tracks, and other signs of human activities including almost certainly assembly buildings and launch pads which spread over a distance of about 135 by 90 kilometers or more. Also, the NASA people flying at night saw a scattering of electric lights from their aircraft that spread over distances of about this amount. At the day of the launch, the American ambassador, the science attache, and Willis Shapley of NASA headquarters were flown there in daylight hours for the launch, but did not see too much from the air. People did report that the little railway stop of Tvuratam these days, is completely overwhelmed by the adjacent city of Leninsk of perhaps 50,000 people. This city had not been shown in public Soviet atlases, and seems to owe its existence to the growing space activity.

With launch pads for many different launch vehicles widely scattered over the area, it is not possible to speak of a single closely defined latitude and longitude as defining the site, or to know what all the launch facilities look like. The original "A" class standard launch vehicle is carried horizontally on railway flat cars to the launch pad, tilted up, to sit on a stand over a large flame deflector pit. The base of the rocket in the upright position is well below the level of the railways tracks which deliver the rocket. There is a many-plat-formed service tower which is tilted away from the vehicle some time before launch, and shorter supports for the first stage which retract away after ignition when thrust reaches a certain level. Tall adjacent light-weight structures are described as carrying lightning rods to minimize electrical interference with the launch equipment and vehicle and perhaps to carry television or motion picture equipment.

One gained the impression that tracking and guidance of Soviet space vehicles during the launch phase involve fixed radio, radar, and or optical stations down range. This is because repetitive flights of a given launch vehicle tend to be flown at almost exactly the same orbital inclinations. To achieve the right azimuth for launch, the whole vehicle assembly and platform are rotated to the required compass heading. When two very similar yet different flight inclinations are achieved using different launch vehicles and other evidence supports the judgment, one receives the impression the difference in launch vehicle is also matched by using a different launch pad, and in order to fly the right "slot" in relation to the guidance points down range, the resulting orbit has a slightly different inclination.

Pictures in movies as well as the visits of NASA people show that the assembly of vehicles and the attachment of payloads occurs in special assembly buildings. Checkout of spacecraft is done in the vertical position. Mating of spacecraft and launch vehicles is done horizontally.

Although only one launch pad in a vast cosmodrome had been opened to limited inspection, the Landsat pictures of the whole area confirmed the general impression that this is open steppe country, relatively flat and only slightly rolling. There is no basis to the rumors of the early days that Soviet launches were conducted by winged, recoverable booster stages which ran on a track up a mountain side before becoming airborne.

Other Landsat pictures suggest there is a general area in which spent first stages impact on the steppe, and informally Russians in the program have suggested they are able to salvage for reuse some components from this "bone yard".(4)

A Soviet account of the Baykonur Cosmodrome described the assembly-test building used for the Soyuz. The building is called the MIK (Montazhno Ispytatel'nyy Korpus). The article said that a Soyuz is first given a full checkout in the MIK, and then again on the pad. In the MIK, the separate modules are tested in vacuum chambers, including the firing of maneuvering engines. After the individual modules are tested, they are assembled to create the whole vehicle and returned to the vacuum chamber for further checkout. Then they are also placed in an anechoic chamber to test the radio compatibility of the assembled ship with its communications systems. (5)

Another account of the Tyuratam complex was carried by Spaceflight. Leninsk was identified as the long-referenced "Rocket City" of Soviet accounts, about 2,090 kilometers southeast of Moscow on the main Moscow-Tashkent railway line, with Tyuratam the original village railway stop. The area was described as rolling but mostly flat country, with complex irrigation systems and some tall trees planted. The climate is very extreme summer and winter. It is said to be about 32 kilometers from Leninsk to the ASTP launch pad, and about 1.6 kilometers from the MIK to the pad, using the standard Soviet 5 foot gauge railway track to join the two points. The second pad for the ASTP backup was supposedly another 32 kilometers away. The same account said there is a test building for the G-l-e rocket and a gantry122 meters tall for full assembly testing of the G-l-e. (6)

Baiterek, which is being built at the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome, is central to Kazakhstan’s ambitions to become a space power. Under the 2004 project, Baiterek was to become a launch pad for Russia’s modular Angara rocket, which is still under development. Last year it was agreed that the facility will be converted to a launch platform for the Ukrainian-built Zenit rockets, as Russia is building a new facility to host Angara, the Vostochny space center.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in 2013 that the leaders of Russia and Kazakhstan had signed a three-year roadmap on the cooperative use of Baikonur, which would transfer ownership of Baiterek to Kazakhstan. The document also requires recommendations be made to reduce the ecological impact of Russian heavy-lift Proton rocket launches beginning in 2016.

The head of the Kazakh space agency on Monday called for trilateral talks between Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to discuss a new launch facility at the country’s Baikonur space center. “At the moment, the project to build the Baiterek launch facility is designed for Zenit carrier rockets, which uses non-toxic components of rocket fuel. However, trilateral cooperation between Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia is needed to carry out the project. In this respect, we are organizing a meeting of the three states’ space chiefs,” the head of the Kazakh space program, former cosmonaut Talgat Musabayev said 05 May 2014.



2. Aviation Week, New York , January 14, 1974 , pp. 12-13, pictures.

3. Takenouchi, Tadao: A launch site In the Kizil Kum Desert? Kagaku Asahi, Tokyo , February 1958, pp. 40-48 (In Japanese); reported earlier in press dispatches.

4. Aviation Week, New York , February 18, 1974 , p. 17, pictures of drop area.

5. Pravda, Moscow , May 25.1975, pp. 1, 2.

6. Spaceflight, London , 11 October 1975 , p. 368.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 10-04-2016 19:05:16 ZULU