Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome's "Gagarin's Start" Soyuz launch pad prior to the rollout of Soyuz TMA-13, 10 October 2008
Location of Baikonur Cosmodrome

Baikonur Cosmodrome (Russian: Космодро́м «Байкону́р» Kosmodrom Baykonur; Kazakh: Байқоңыр ғарыш айлағы Bayqoñır ğarış aylağı) is a Kazakhstani spaceport. This is the world's first and largest operational space launch facility.[1] It is located in the desert steppe of Baikonur, about 200 kilometres (124 mi) east of the Aral Sea, north of the Syr Darya river, near Tyuratam railway station, at 90 metres (300 ft) above sea level. It is 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 its space program. Under the current Russian space program, Baikonur remains a busy spaceport, with numerous commercial, military, and scientific missions being launched annually.[2][3] All manned Russian spaceflights are launched from Baikonur.[4]

Both Vostok 1, the first manned spacecraft in human history, and before it, Sputnik 1, the world's first orbital spaceflight of any sort, were launched from one of Baikonur's launch pads, which is now known as Gagarin's Start, named after Yuri Gagarin.


Soviet era

U-2 Photograph of R-7 Launch Pad in Tyura-Tam

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),[5] 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 Gen. 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.[6] Additionally, the missile trajectory had to be away from populated areas. Also, it is an advantage to place a space launch site closer to the equator, as the surface of the Earth has higher rotational speed there. 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 the Soviets undertook. 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 it was not until 1961 (i.e. until Gagarin's flight), when the name was deliberately chosen to misdirect[6][7] the West 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.[7] The main cosmodrome-supporting town Leninsk was renamed to 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.[8] 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.

Scientific literature collected enough data that confirmed adverse effects of rockets on environment and health of the population.[9] Heptyl or UDMH, fuel used in Russian rocket engines, is considered to be 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 heptyl is still laying on the falling grounds." [10] So, for that reason, now cosmodrome, which was once a pride of the former Soviet Union, is a target of Kazakhstani Eco-activists' anger.


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.

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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13] In an attempt to reduce its dependency on Baikonur, Russia is constructing the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Oblast.[14]

With the retirement of the American Space Shuttle program, Baikonur has been the only launch site for International Space Station missions using Russian spacecraft.[4] Following the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program, Russian spacecraft are now the only means by which astronauts can travel to the International Space Station, making Baikonur the sole launch site used for manned missions to the ISS.[15]

Yevgeny Anisimov was head of the Baikonur space center from 2010 to February 2014, when he was removed from his position as a result of disagreements with senior Roscosmos officials.[16]

On 2 September 2015 a Soyuz spacecraft carrying Aidyn Aimbetov from Kazakhstan, Sergei Volkov from Russia, and Andreas Mogensen from Denmark launched for a two-day trip to the International Space Station from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.[17]


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. During the temporary lapse of the United States' Space Shuttle program after the Columbia Disaster in 2003 it played an essential role in operating and resupplying of the International Space Station (ISS) with Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. Its high latitude of 46° N required the high orbital inclination of the ISS..

Downrange from the launchpad, spent launch equipment is dropped directly on the ground where it is salvaged by the workers and the local population.[18]

List of launchpads

Major launchpads at Baikonur Cosmodrome

Buran facilities

Main article: Buran program

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.

All Baikonur's logistics are based on its own intra-site 1,520 mm (5 ft) 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.

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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27]

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;[28][29][30] 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.

In popular culture

See also


  1. "Baikonur Cosmodrome 45.9 N 63.3 E". Federation of American Scientists (FAS). Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  2. Wilson, Jim (5 August 2000). "Safe Launch For Critical Space Station Module". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
  3. "Baikonur Cosmodrome". International Launch Services.
  4. 1 2 "Baikonur Cosmodrome". NASA. Retrieved 24 December 2011.
  5. Wade, Mark. "R-7". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
  6. 1 2 Suvorov, Vladimir. The first manned spaceflight: Russia's quest for space. pp. 16–17.
  7. 1 2 "The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project". NASA.
  8. "Group – Afanasiy Ilich Tobonov".
  9. Abdrazak, P. Kh; Musa, K. Sh (21 June 2015). "The impact of the cosmodrome «Baikonur» on the environment and human health". 8 (1): 26–29. Retrieved 2 August 2016 via
  10. "GREEN WOMEN". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  11. "Expedition 19". NASA. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  12. "Russia, Kazakhs reach Biakonur lease deal". Defense Daily. 30 March 1994. Retrieved 28 May 2015 via HighBeam Research. (subscription required (help)).
  13. "Kazakhstan Finally Ratifies Baikonur Rental Deal With Russia". 12 April 2010.
  15. "Russian Craft Docks At International Space Station". Radio Free Europe. Retrieved 24 December 2011.
  16. "Russia's Baikonur Space Center Head Quits". RIA Novosti. 18 February 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  17. "Soyuz carrying 3-man crew blasts off for orbiting station". Sun Herald.
  18. Baikonur Downrange,
  19. "Energia-Buran processing complex at Site 112 and 112A". Archived from the original on 6 July 2015. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  20. "Buran The end". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  21. "Buran landing facility at Site 251 in Baikonur". Archived from the original on 25 February 2015. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  22. "UAON pilot info @ OurAirports". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  23. "Buran processing facility at Site 254 in Baikonur". Archived from the original on 9 August 2015. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  24. "Russia test-fires old missile to extend lifespan". Reuters. 22 October 2008.
  25. ""Baiterek" Space Launch Complex". Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. Archived from the original on 30 June 2006. Retrieved 10 May 2006.
  26. "Kazakh President Signs Law Re Baiterek Rocket Center". 24 October 2005. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
  27. Vorontsov, Dmitri; Igor Afanasyev (10 November 2009). "Angara getting ready for launch". Russia CIS Observer. 3 (26). Archived from the original on 1 January 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2010.
  28. Whitehouse, David (13 May 2002). "Russia's space dreams abandoned". BBC. Retrieved 14 November 2007.
  29. Photo of collapsed hangar
  30. Remains of Buran photo with right front windscreen still visible under the debris
  31. "The Naked Now", Star Trek: The Next Generation, Paramount, October 5, 1987


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Coordinates: 45°57′54″N 63°18′18″E / 45.965°N 63.305°E / 45.965; 63.305

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