Baikonur Cosmodrome

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Baikonur Cosmodrome

Kazakh: Байқоңыр ғарыш айлағы
Baıqońyr ǵarysh aılaǵy
Russian :Космодром Байконур
Kosmodrom Baykonur
Baikonur Cosmodrome Soyuz launch pad.jpg
Baikonur Cosmodrome's "Gagarin's Start" Soyuz launch pad prior to the rollout of Soyuz TMA-13, 10 October 2008
Airport type Spaceport
Owner/Operator Roscosmos
Russian Aerospace Forces
Location Kazakhstan leased to Russia
Time zone UTC+06:00 (+06:00)
Elevation  AMSL 90 m / 300 ft
Coordinates 45°57′54″N63°18′18″E / 45.965°N 63.305°E / 45.965; 63.305 Coordinates: 45°57′54″N63°18′18″E / 45.965°N 63.305°E / 45.965; 63.305
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Baikonur Cosmodrome
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Baikonur Cosmodrome

The Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakh : Байқоңыр ғарыш айлағы, romanized: Baıqońyr ǵarysh aılaǵy; Russian : Космодро́м Байкону́р, romanized: Kosmodrom Baykonur) is a spaceport located in an area of southern Kazakhstan leased to Russia.


The Cosmodrome is the world's first and largest operational space launch facility. [1] The spaceport is located in the desert steppe of Baikonur, about 200 kilometres (124 mi) east of the Aral Sea and north of the river Syr Darya. It is near the Tyuratam railway station and is about 90 metres (300 ft) above sea level. Baikonur cosmodrome and the city of Baikonur celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the foundation on 2 June 2018. [2]

The spaceport is currently leased by the Kazakh Government to Russia until 2050, and is managed jointly by the Roscosmos State Corporation and the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The shape of the area leased is an ellipse, measuring 90 kilometres (56 mi) east–west by 85 kilometres (53 mi) north–south, with the cosmodrome at the centre. It was originally built by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s as the base of operations for the Soviet space program. Under the current Russian space program, Baikonur remains a busy spaceport, with numerous commercial, military, and scientific missions being launched annually. [3] [4] All crewed Russian spaceflights are launched from Baikonur. [5]

Both Sputnik 1 , the first artificial satellite, and Vostok 1, the first human spaceflight, were launched from Baikonur. The launch pad used for both missions was renamed Gagarin's Start in honor of Russian Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, pilot of Vostok 1 and first human in space.


Soviet era

U-2 spy plane photograph of R-7 launch pad in Tyuratam, taken in 1957. Baikonur CIA U-2.gif
U-2 spy plane photograph of R-7 launch pad in Tyuratam, taken in 1957.

The Soviet government issued the decree for Scientific Research Test Range No. 5 (NIIP-5; Russian : Nauchno-Issledovatel’skii Ispytatel’nyi Poligon N.5) on 12 February 1955. It was actually founded on 2 June 1955, originally a test center for the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), [6] the R-7 Semyorka. NIIP-5 was soon expanded to include launch facilities for space flights. The site was selected by a commission led by General Vasily Voznyuk, influenced by Sergey Korolyov, the Chief Designer of the R-7 ICBM, and soon the man behind the Soviet space program. It had to be surrounded by plains, as the radio control system of the rocket required (at the time) receiving uninterrupted signals from ground stations hundreds of kilometres away. [7] Additionally, the missile trajectory had to be away from populated areas. Also, it is advantageous to place space launch sites closer to the equator, as the surface of the Earth has higher rotational speed in such areas. Taking these constraints into consideration, the commission chose Tyuratam, a village in the heart of the Kazakh Steppe. The expense of constructing the launch facilities and the several hundred kilometres of new road and train lines made the Cosmodrome one of the most costly infrastructure projects undertaken by the Soviets. [ citation needed ] A supporting town was built around the facility to provide housing, schools and infrastructure for workers. It was raised to city status in 1966 and named Leninsk.

The American U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance plane found and photographed the Tyuratam missile test range for the first time on 5 August 1957.


There are conflicting sources about origins of the name Baikonur. Some sources say that the name was deliberately chosen in 1961 (around the time of Gagarin's flight) to misdirect [7] [8] the Western Bloc to a place about 320 kilometres (199 mi) northeast of the launch center, the small mining town of Baikonur near Jezkazgan.

Other sources state that Baikonur was name of the Tyuratam region even before the cosmodrome existed. [8] Leninsk, the closed city built to support the cosmodrome, was renamed Baikonur on 20 December 1995 by Boris Yeltsin.

Environmental impact

Russian scientist Afanasiy Ilich Tobonov researched mass animal deaths in the 1990s and concluded that the mass deaths of birds and wildlife in the Sakha Republic were noted only along the flight paths of space rockets launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome. [9] Dead wildlife and livestock were usually incinerated, and the participants in these incinerations, including Tobonov himself, his brothers and inhabitants of his native village of Eliptyan, commonly died from stroke or cancer. In 1997, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation changed the flight path and removed the ejected rocket stages near Nyurbinsky District, Russia.[ citation needed ]

Scientific literature collected data that indicated adverse effects of rockets on the environment and the health of the population. [10] UDMH, a fuel used in Russian rocket engines, is highly toxic. It is one of the reasons for acid rains and cancers in the local population, near the cosmodrome. Valery Yakovlev, a head of the laboratory of ecosystem research of the State scientific-production union of applied ecology "Kazmechanobr", notes: "Scientists have established the extreme character of destructive influence of "Baikonur" space center on environment and population of the region: 11 000 tons of space scrap metal, polluted by especially toxic UDMH is still laying on the falling grounds." [11] Scrap recovery is part of the local economy. [12]


Many historic flights lifted off from Baikonur: the first operational ICBM; the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957; the first spacecraft to travel close to the Moon, Luna 1, on 2 January 1959; the first manned and orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961; and the flight of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963. 14 cosmonauts of 13 other nations, such as Czechoslovakia, East Germany, India and France, started their journeys from here as well under the Interkosmos program. In 1960, a prototype R-16 ICBM exploded before launch, killing over 100 people. Baikonur is also the site where Venera 9 and Mars 3 were launched from.

Russian era

A Soyuz rocket is erected into position at the Baikonur Cosmodrome's Pad 1/5 (Gagarin's Start) on 24 March 2009. The rocket launched the crew of Expedition 19 and a spaceflight participant on 26 March 2009. Soyuz expedition 19 launch pad.jpg
A Soyuz rocket is erected into position at the Baikonur Cosmodrome's Pad 1/5 (Gagarin's Start) on 24 March 2009. The rocket launched the crew of Expedition 19 and a spaceflight participant on 26 March 2009.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian space program continued to operate from Baikonur under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia wanted to sign a 99-year lease for Baikonur, but agreed to a $115 million annual lease of the site for 20 years with an option for a 10-year extension. [14] On 8 June 2005, the Russian Federation Council ratified an agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan extending Russia's rent term of the spaceport until 2050. The rent price—which remained fixed at US$115,000,000 per year – is the source of a long-running dispute between the two countries. [15] In an attempt to reduce its dependency on Baikonur, Russia is constructing the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Oblast. [16]

Baikonur has been a major part of Russia's contribution to the International Space Station (ISS), as it is the only spaceport from which Russian missions to the ISS are launched. It is Baikonur's position at ~46° N latitude that dictates the 51.6° orbital inclination of the ISS – this is the lowest inclination that can be reached directly by Soyuz boosters launched from Baikonur that does not involve flying over China. [17] With the conclusion of NASA's Space Shuttle program in 2011, Baikonur has become the sole launch site used for manned missions to the ISS. [5] [18]

In 2019 Gagarin's Start hosted three crewed launches, in March, July and September, before being decommissioned by the Russian government due to lack of funds. [19] The final launch from Gagarin's Start took place 25 September 2019.


Baikonur is fully equipped with facilities for launching both manned and unmanned spacecraft. It supports several generations of Russian spacecraft: Soyuz, Proton, Tsyklon, Dnepr, Zenit and Buran.

Downrange from the launchpad, spent launch equipment is dropped directly on the ground where it is salvaged by the workers and the local population. [20]

List of launchpads

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Major launchpads at Baikonur Cosmodrome

Buran facilities

As part of the Buran program, several facilities were adapted or newly built for the Buran-class space shuttle orbiters:

Baikonur Railway

Soyuz TMA-16 launch vehicle being transported to launchpad at Baikonur in 2009. Soyuz TMA-16 launch vehicle being transported to pad.jpg
Soyuz TMA-16 launch vehicle being transported to launchpad at Baikonur in 2009.

All Baikonur's logistics are based on its own intra-site 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) gauge railway network, which is the largest industrial railway on the planet. The railway is used for all stages of launch preparation, and all spacecraft are transported to the launchpads by the special Schnabel cars. Once part of the Soviet Railroad Troops, the Baikonur Railway is now served by a dedicated civilian state company. There are several rail links connecting the Baikonur Railway to the public railway of Kazakhstan and the rest of the world.

Baikonur airports

The Baikonur Cosmodrome has two on-site multi-purpose airports, serving both the personnel transportation needs and the logistics of space launches (including the delivery of the spacecraft by planes). There are scheduled passenger services from Moscow to the smaller Krayniy Airport ( IATA : BXY, ICAO : UAOL), which however are not accessible to the public. The larger Yubileyniy Airport (Юбилейный аэропорт) ( ICAO : UAON) was where the Buran orbiter was transported to Baikonur on the back of the Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo aircraft.

ICBM testing

Although Baikonur has always been known around the world as the launch site of Soviet and Russian space missions, from its outset in 1955 and until the collapse of the USSR in 1991 the primary purpose of this center was to test liquid-fueled ballistic missiles. The official (and secret) name of the center was State Test Range No. 5 or 5 GIK. It remained under control of the Soviet and Russian Ministry of Defense until the second half of the 1990s, when the Russian civilian space agency and its industrial contractors started taking over individual facilities.[ citation needed ]

In 2006, the head of Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov, said that the last Russian military personnel would be removed from the Baikonur facility by 2007. However, on 22 October 2008 an SS-19 Stiletto missile was test fired from Baikonur, indicating this may not be the case. [26]

Future projects

On 22 December 2004, Kazakhstan and Russia signed a contract establishing the "Russia–Kazakhstan Baiterek JV" joint venture, in which each country holds a 50-percent stake. The goal of the project is the construction of the Bayterek ("poplar tree") space launch complex, to facilitate operations of the Russian Angara rocket launcher. [27] This will allow launches with a payload of 26 tons to low Earth orbit, compared to 20 tons using the Proton system. An additional benefit will be that the Angara uses kerosene as fuel and oxygen as the oxidiser, which is less hazardous to the environment than the toxic fuels used by older boosters. The total expenditure on the Kazakh side will be $223 million over 19 years. [28] As of 2010, the project was stalling due to insufficient funding. It was thought that the project still had good chances to succeed because it will allow both parties – Russia and Kazakhstan – to continue the joint use of Baikonur even after the Vostochny Cosmodrome is commissioned. [29] The first scheduled launch of the Baiterek Rocket and Space Complex is scheduled for 2025. [30]

Baikonur Museum

Buran at Baikonur Museum Buran baikonur.jpg
Buran at Baikonur Museum

Baikonur Cosmodrome has a small museum, next to two small cottages, once residences of Sergey Korolev and Yuri Gagarin. Both cottages are part of the museum complex and have been preserved. The museum is home to a collection of space artifacts. A restored test artifact from the Soviet Buran programme sits next to the museum entrance. The vehicle that flew a single orbital test mission in 1988 was destroyed in a hangar collapse in 2002; [31] [32] [33] For a complete list of Buran artifacts, see Buran (spacecraft).

The museum also houses photographs related to the cosmodrome's history, including images of all cosmonauts. Every crew of every expedition launched from Baikonur leaves behind a signed crew photograph that is displayed behind the glass.

Baikonur's museum holds many objects related to Gagarin, including the ground control panel from his flight, his uniforms, and soil from his landing site, preserved in a silver container. One of the museum rooms also holds an older version of the Soyuz descent capsule.

See also

Related Research Articles

Buran programme research project

The Buran programme, also known as the "VKK Space Orbiter programme", was a Soviet and later Russian reusable spacecraft project that began in 1974 at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute in Moscow and was formally suspended in 1993. In addition to being the designation for the whole Soviet/Russian reusable spacecraft project, Buran was also the name given to Orbiter K1, which completed one uncrewed spaceflight in 1988 and was the only Soviet reusable spacecraft to be launched into space. The Buran-class orbiters used the expendable Energia rocket as a launch vehicle. They are generally treated as a Soviet equivalent of the United States' Space Shuttle, but in the Buran project, only the airplane-shaped orbiter itself was theoretically reusable.

Spaceport facility for launching (or receiving) spacecraft

A spaceport or cosmodrome is a site for launching spacecraft, by analogy to seaport for ships or airport for aircraft. The word spaceport, and even more so cosmodrome, has traditionally been used for sites capable of launching spacecraft into orbit around Earth or on interplanetary trajectories. However, rocket launch sites for purely sub-orbital flights are sometimes called spaceports, as in recent years new and proposed sites for suborbital human flights have been frequently referred to or named 'spaceports'. Space stations and proposed future bases on the moon are sometimes called spaceports, in particular if intended as a base for further journeys.

Baikonur A city in Kazakhstan holding a Russian spaceport

Baikonur, formerly known as Leninsk, is a city of republic significance in Kazakhstan on the northern bank of the Syr Darya river, rented and administered by the Russian Federation. It was constructed to service the Baikonur Cosmodrome and was officially renamed Baikonur by Russian president Boris Yeltsin on December 20, 1995. During the Soviet period, it was sometimes referred to as Звездоград, Russian for 'Star City'.

Plesetsk Cosmodrome Russian spaceport

Plesetsk Cosmodrome is a Russian spaceport located in Mirny, Arkhangelsk Oblast, about 800 km north of Moscow and approximately 200 km south of Arkhangelsk, dates from 1957. Originally developed as an ICBM site for the R-7 missile, it also served for numerous satellite launches using the R-7 and other rockets. Its high latitude makes it useful only for certain types of launches, especially the Molniya orbits, so for much of the site's history it functioned as a secondary location, with most orbital launches taking place from Baikonur, in the Kazakh SSR. With the end of the Soviet Union, Baikonur became foreign territory, and Kazakhstan charged $115 million usage fees annually. Consequently, Plesetsk has seen considerably more activity since the 2000s.

Roscosmos space agency of Russia

The Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, commonly known as Roscosmos, is a state corporation responsible for the wide range and types of space flights and cosmonautics programs for the Russian Federation.

Zenit (rocket family) rocket for launching satellites

Zenit is a family of space launch vehicles designed by the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau in Dnipro, Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. Zenit was originally built in the 1980s for two purposes: as a liquid rocket booster for the Energia rocket and, equipped with a second stage, as a stand-alone middle-weight launcher with a payload greater than the 7 tonnes of the Soyuz but smaller than the 20 tonnes payload of the Proton. The last rocket family developed in the USSR, the Zenit was intended as an eventual replacement for the dated R-7 and Proton families, and it would employ propellants which were safer and less toxic than the Proton's nitrogen tetroxide/UDMH mix. Zenit was planned to take over crewed spaceship launches from Soyuz, but these plans were abandoned after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Tsyklon, GRAU index 11K67, was a Soviet-designed expendable launch system, primarily used to put Cosmos satellites into low Earth orbit. It is based on the R-36 intercontinental ballistic missile designed by Mikhail Yangel and made eight launches, with seven successes and one failure. All of its launches were conducted from LC-90 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It is sometimes designated Tsyklon-2A, not to be confused with the later Tsyklon-2 rocket. It was introduced in 1967 and was derived from the R-36 ICBM. It was retired in 1969.

"Buria", or "Ptichka", is an official nickname for the second Buran-class spaceplane, produced as part of the Soviet/Russian Buran programme, and inscribed on the ship's hull. It carried the GRAU index serial number 11F35 K2 and is - depending on the source - also known as "OK-1K2", "Orbiter K2", "OK 1.02" or "Shuttle 1.02".

<i>Buran</i> (spacecraft) Soviet winged orbital vehicle

Buran was the first spaceplane to be produced as part of the Soviet/Russian Buran programme. It is, depending on the source, also known as "OK-1K1", "Orbiter K1", "OK 1.01" or "Shuttle 1.01". Besides describing the first operational Soviet/Russian shuttle orbiter, "Buran" was also the designation for the entire Soviet/Russian spaceplane project and its orbiters, which were known as "Buran-class spaceplanes".

Gagarins Start launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan

Gagarin's Start, also known as Baikonur Site 1 or Site 1/5 is a launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, used for the Soviet space program and now managed by Roscosmos.

Vostochny Cosmodrome Russian spaceport in the Amur Oblast

The Vostochny Cosmodrome is a Russian spaceport on the 51st parallel north in the Amur Oblast, in the Russian Far East. It is intended to reduce Russia's dependency on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The first launch took place on 28 April 2016 at 02:01 UTC. As of July 2019, five launch attempts have been made with four successes.

Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 31 launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan

Baikonur Site 31, also known as Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, is a launch site used by derivatives of the R-7 Semyorka missile. From 2011 onwards, it was supposed to be the launch site for manned Soyuz missions to the International Space Station, when launches switched from the Soyuz-FG carrier rocket to the Soyuz-2, which was unable to use the launch pad at Site 1/5. However, Site 1/5 has undergone modifications that allow the manned ISS missions to be launched from it. Only few manned missions to the International Space Station are launched from Site 31/6, when Site 1/5 is unavailable.

R-7 (rocket family) rocket family

The R-7 family of rockets is a series of rockets, derived from the Soviet R-7 Semyorka, the world's first ICBM. More R-7 rockets have been launched than any other family of large rockets.

Soyuz TMA-02M

Soyuz TMA-02M was a space mission that transported three members of the Expedition 28 crew to the International Space Station. TMA-02M was the 110th flight of a Soyuz spacecraft and the second flight of the improved Soyuz-TMA-M series. The Soyuz remained docked to the space station for the Expedition 28 increment to serve as a potential emergency escape vehicle.

Progress M-08M

Progress M-08M, identified by NASA as Progress 40 or 40P, is a Progress spacecraft which was used to resupply the International Space Station. It was the eighth Progress-M 11F615A60 spacecraft to be launched, the fifth for the year 2010. The spacecraft was manufactured by RKK Energia, and was operated by the Russian Federal Space Agency. It arrived at the space station on 30 October 2010 whilst the Expedition 25 crew was aboard, and departed during Expedition 26 on 24 January 2011.

Site 250 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, also known as UKSS and Bayterek, is a test facility and launch site which was used by the Energia rocket during the 1980s. The site consists of a single launch pad, which doubled as a test stand, and is supported by an engineering area and a propellant storage facility. As of 2011 the complex was planned to be rebuilt as the Bayterek Launch Complex, which would be used by the Angara rocket from 2015; however development is yet to begin.

Site 110 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome is a launch facility which was used by the N1 rocket during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and by the Energia rocket during the 1980s.

Site 90 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome is a launch complex consisting of two pads, which has been used by UR-200, Tsyklon-2A and Tsyklon-2 rockets. Built in the 1960s for the UR-200, which was first launched from the complex on 3 November 1963, it was converted for use by Tsyklon rockets after further development of the UR-200 was cancelled. One pad is currently active, pending the final Tsyklon-2 launch which is expected to occur in 2012.

Irtysh, also named Soyuz-5, codenamed Fenix in Russian and Sunkar in Kazakh, is a planned Russian rocket that is being developed by JSC SRC Progress within the "Project Feniks". Initially it will replace the capability of Zenit-2 and Proton Medium, and in the future will serve as the base of a super heavy-lift launch vehicle rocket to match the Energia/Buran capabilities. It is expected to launch from the Baikonur Baiterek, the ex Zenit-2 launch site, in a partnership with the government of Kazakhstan, with a planned debut of 2022.

Soyuz 7K-L1E

Soyuz 7K-L1E was a Soviet uncrewed modified Soyuz 7K-L1 spacecraft. Also called a dummy Soyuz 7K-LOK. Two were built, one Soyuz 7K-L1E was successfully launched into Low Earth Orbit on Proton rocket and is known as Kosmos 382. The other Soyuz 7K-L1E was placed on a N1 rocket, which failed at launch. The Soyuz spacecraft was first used in 1967 as the main crewed spacecraft and is still in use. Many Soyuz variations have been built and the Soyuz 7K-L1E was an unmanned variation.


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Further reading