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Baikonur Cosmodrome
45.9 N 63.3 E, TYURATAM

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Overview, Supporting Facilities and Launch Vehicles of the

Soviet Space Program


Then first launches of Soviet artificial Earth satellites were made from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This, the largest and most versatile of their launch sites is near the rail stop village of Tyuratam, the name commonly given to the launch site by Western analysts. Tyuratam may be considered to be analogous to Cape Canaveral and the Eastern Test Range in the United States. All launches associated with piloted spaceflight (except spaceplane tests), lunar, planetary and geosynchronous spacecraft originate from Tyuratam. The military Fractional Orbit Bombardment System (FOBS) tests in the period 1966-1971 and the antisatellite (ASAT) interceptors were launched from the F-vehicle pads at this cosmodrome.


The international flight of Soyuz T-6 to Salyut 7 in 1982 provided new details about the Baikonur cosmodrome. Seven French television, radio and newspaper correspondents were the first Western journalists to be allowed to visit the very secret site in Kazakhstan. (2) A few days before the launch the journalists, accompanied by representatives of the French National Space Studies Center (CNES) and of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs flew from Moscow to the cosmodrome in a little under 3 hours.

The new city of Leninsk, construction of which started at the same time as the cosmodrome in 1955, is about 10 km from the airport. It was built specially, on the site of the small village of Tyuratam, to provide housing for civil and military personnel of the cosmodrome and their families and accommodates workers from local industry and students at the new Aviation Institute. The population, in 1982, was around 50,000.

The city consists mainly of apartment buildings. The main street begins at a central square surrounded by official buildings and a hotel and leads directly to the cosmodrome entrance at the northern exit of the city. The "Cosmonaut" Hotel, which is used by the cosmonauts and their escort crews, is situated just short of the entrance to the cosmodrome, adjacent to a telecommunications station. It is totally isolated from the rest of the city, spreading out over 60 hectares of woods along the river. It is equipped with airconditioned rooms, recreation rooms and sports facilities, such as tennis courts and a swimming pool. It also serves as a technical and medical center where the cosmonauts may train up to the last minute in a flight simulator.

The climate is harsh—very cold in winter (—30"C) and very hot in summer (40°C). The site was chosen for its remoteness and relatively clear skies—it averages 300 sunny days per year.

The cosmodrome spreads out over more than 100 km around its original site, some 35 km north of the city. The technical assembly complex (MIK) for booster rockets and spaceships was built in 1966. This is where crew members make their last-minute preparations (suiting-up) and the components of the booster rocket, Soyuz T and Progress spaceships are assembled. These are delivered by rail, three to four weeks before launch, from manufacturing plants situated "almost anywhere in the U.S.S.R." (3)

The small homes used by Korolev and Gagarin in 1961 are near the approach to the launch site for manned spaceships. The journalists could see, several kilometers away, a large manufacturing site with metal towers some 100 m tall, located near a very tall building which they took to be an assembly hall, and speculated that it might be the site for a new large booster rocket or reusable space shuttle.

Details of the preparation of the Soyuz 26 launch vehicle at the end of 1977 and the city of Leninsk were given in an article published nearly 4 years later. (4)

The flight of the U.S. space shuttle STS-9 in December 1983 provided imagery of the Tyuratam area.5 Application of photogrammetric techniques provided estimates of the dimensions of three of the larger buildings (220 x 190 x 23, 220 x 80 x 35 and 155 x 110 x 23 meters) and permitted the construction of a map of the area depicting a new 5 km long runway construction suitable for use by a reusable space shuttle.(6) A 20 km long track across the surrounding steppe extending from the runway in a direction close to the launch azimuth for piloted spaceflight could also be discerned. Existence of a "15,000 feet runway" for such a purpose was revealed to American representatives attending the Space Future Forum in Moscow at the beginning of October 1987. (7)

By 1984, U.S. reconnaissance satellites had photographed extensive construction work on new launch pads and support facilities for the anticipated Soviet space shuttle and heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV), including a large assembly building, comparable in size to the vertical assembly building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The piloted and automated HLLV developments all had coordinated designs enabling the same or similar propulsion hardware to be employed in the different programs. The large cryogenic rocket fuel storage areas were shown to be much larger than those at KSC now used for the U.S. space shuttle, but orginally constructed for the Saturn V Moon program. (8)

The entry under "Baikonur" in a 1985 encyclopedia (9) confirms the date of foundation as 1955 and gives the location as "in KzylOrda Oblast, Kazakh SSR." It summarizes the main and auxiliary facilities and services, which are said to cover a large area and be inter-connected by roads and railways. Included in the main facilities are technical support positions, launch complexes and measuring stations. These are furnished with general technical and special technological equipment together with approach roads which allow for the reception, storage and assembly of launch vehicles and spacecraft, their testing, fueling of spacecraft and their mating with launch vehicles, their delivery to the launch pad, testing and fueling of launch vehicles, and guidance, launch and control of the operation of a launch vehicle and spacecraft during powered flight.

The auxiliary and service facilities include zones for storage of fuel components, plants producing liquid oxygen and nitrogen, power and water supplies, communication, television and other systems. Each type of launch vehicle has one or more technical support positions and launch complexes.

As the result of a written request from the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) to Anatoliy Dobrynin, the Soviet Union's Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Balayan, vice chairman of the Intercosmos Council of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, produced a technical memorandum which was an official summary of Salyut space station activities, also giving information about the Baikonur cosmodrome and various support facilities. (10)

The launch structure for the Soyuz or A-class launch vehicle employs a launch system with releaseable supporting beams which accept the weight of the rocket. The rocket is suspended over the gas-deflecting trough with its tail portion several meters below the level of the platform. After ignition, the thrust of the engines increases. The launch vehicle begins to rise when the total thrust exceeds its weight and it is freed from the clamps of the launch support beams.

The special technical and launching complexes for the Proton or D-class launch vehicle are described in some detail in a Soviet brochure promoting their offer to launch payloads for foreign customers.(11) The main building of the technical complex is the integration and test facility in which assembly and mating of the Proton launch vehicle stages are carried out in the horizontal position using special jigs and trolleys. The jig used for the assembly of the first stage is said to be the most important. The central core is fixed on the jig so that it can be rotated about its longitudinal axis. One of the six side units, on its assembly trolley, is positioned underneath the central core and attached to it. The trolley is removed and the central core rotated through 60° and the next side unit is moved into position and attached. This process is continued until all six side units have been attached to the central core. The complete first stage is then removed from the jig by a bridge crane and transferred to the assembly mating trolley, where it is mated to the remaining stages. Assembly and integrated testing of the assembled launch vehicle takes place simultaneously with the preparation of the payload at the integration and test facility.

The launching complex consists of two pads separated by a distance of 600 meters. The launch vehicle is delivered to the launching complex by a flat-bed railcar. Its vertical positioning and installation on the launch pad is performed by the special crane of the launch facility. The D-vehicle, unlike the A-vehicle, is not suspended in the launcher system, but is installed directly on the supporting fixtures of the launch pad.

The lift-off maintenance phase is carried out with the aid of a rail-mounted mobile service tower which is removed to a safe distance prior to launch. The launching complex is completely free from cable and umbilical masts. Their role is performed by a special docking mechanism which, at the moment of lift-off, is raised to track the launch vehicle's motion for a fraction of a second before it is withdrawn by the pneumatic accelerators being firmly covered by steel armoured covers which, after closing, form the

engine gaseous jet cutter. Lift-off is controlled from the command center situated 1.5 km from the launching complex.

Recent modifications to the launching complex, necessitated by its potential commercialization, include provision for replenishing with liquid oxygen on the launch pad, and new systems for supplying compressed gases to the booster and providing thermostatic control of the payload.

False-color Landsat imagery of the area from the U.S. company EOSAT has been published (12) as has black and white, 10 m resolution imagery from the French SPOT satellite.(13) The latter revealed the striped markings on the runway and paved overruns at either end. A large paved area, permitting exterior handling of hardware, adjoining one of the assembly buildings is also visible. A large launch pad with a triangular flame trench, thought to be associated with a heavy-lift vehicle and reusable space shuttle, can be seen in the area identified in the STS-9 imagery.

The Soviet desire to attract foreign customers for launch services through Glavkosmos has led to the opening up of the cosmodrome to potential clients. The first representatives of western business circles who were permitted to visit the cosmodrome were from the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT) and British Aerospace during October 1987.(14) Representatives of Space Commerce Corporation of Houston, Texas, visited the cosmodrome in November 1987.(15)



2. Langereux, P. Air and Cosmos, July 17, 1982, p. 57-60, 68.

3. Ibid.

4. Gor'kov, V. Moscow, Aviatsiya i Kosmonavtika, October 1981, p. 42-44.

5. Aviation Week and Space Technology, Januarly 9, 1984, p. 17.

6. Thomson, G. H. Nature, October 18, 1984, p. 607.

7. Aerospace Daily, October 7, 1987, p. 33.

8. Aviation Week and Space Technology, March 12, 1984, p. 111.

9. Kosmonavtika Entsiklopediya, Moscow, 1985, p. 42.


10. U. S. Office of Technology Assessment. Salyut: Soviet Steps Toward Permanent Human Presence in Space, Appendix A. Washington, December 1983. OTA-TM-STI-14.

11. Soviet launcher PROTON has been used for launching the "Salyut" and "Soyuz" orbital station. Licensintorg, Moscow, (n.d.).

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Page last modified: 10-04-2016 19:05:17 ZULU