Map showing the location of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
The Baikonur Cosmodrome
( ; ), also called
, is the world's first and largest
operational space launch facility
located in the desert steppes of Kazakhstan, about east of the Aral Sea, north of
Darya river, near Tyuratam railway
station, at 90 metres above sea level. The facility derives
its name from a wider area known as Baikonur and is also
traditionally linked with the town of Jezkazgan. It is leased by the Kazakh government to
Russia (currently until 2050) and is managed jointly by
the Russian Federal Space
Agency and the Russian Space
The shape of the area leased is an ellipse,
measuring 90 kilometres east-west by 85 kilometres 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
With the fall of Soviet Union, the Russian
Space Program has fallen into
, but Baikonur remains central to international space
Vostok 1, the first manned spacecraft in human
history, was launched from one of Baikonur's launch pads, which is
presently known as Gagarin's Start.
sources have claimed the name "Baikonur" was chosen to misdirect
the West to Baikonur, a mining
town about northeast of the launch center, near Jezkazgan. "Baikonur" may also refer to the entire region.
In the Kazakh
, Tyuratam means "broken arrow", which would seem
obvious as a reason why it was not used as the public name of the
launch site. For whatever reason, the name of "Baikonur Cosmodrome"
became official when the nearby town of Leninsk, was renamed to
Baikonur by Boris Yeltsin on December 20, 1995.
U-2 Photograph of R-7 Launch Pad in Tyura-Tam
Baikonur was founded on June 2, 1955. It was originally built as a
long-range-missile center and later expanded to include launch
facilities for space flight. Sergei
, the Chief Designer of the Soviet R-7 Semyorka ICBM
the site, as the radio control system of the rocket required a
ground station several hundred kilometres down range of the launch
pads. 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 support infrastructure for workers.
raised to city status in 1966 and named Leninsk.
The Soviet government established the Nauchno-Issledovatel’skii
Ispytatel’nyi Poligon N.5 (NIIIP-5), or Scientific-Research Test
Range N.5, by its decree of 12 February 1955. The U-2 high-altitude
reconnaissance plane found and photographed the Tyuratam missile
test range (cosmodrome Baikonur) for the first time on 5 August
1957. See a composite satellite image of the early Tyuratam launch
complex, the cosmodrome (30 May 1962).
Many historic flights lifted off from Baikonur: the first
operational ICBM; the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1
, on October 4, 1957; the first
spacecraft to travel close to the Moon, Luna
, on January 2 1959 ; the first manned orbital flight by
on April 12, 1961; and the
flight of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova
, in 1963.
cosmonauts of 13 other nations, such as Czechoslovakia, East
Germany and France, started
their historical journeys from here as well under Interkosmos program. In 1960, a prototype
R-16 ICBM exploded before launch, killing over 100 people.
the breakup of the Soviet
Union in 1991 the Russian space program continued to
operate from Baikonur under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent
In 1995, the city surrounding the spaceport was
renamed Baikonur. On June 8, 2005 the Russian Federation Council ratified an
agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan extending Russia’s rent term of the spaceport until
The rent price - which is fixed at 115 million
per year - is the source of a
long-running dispute between the two countries. That dispute has
prompted Russia to begin upgrading its own Plesetsk
Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk
Oblast of Northern Russia as a fallback option.
Baikonur is fully equipped with facilities for launching both
manned and unmanned space vehicles
supports several generations of Russian spacecraft:
Soyuz, Proton, Tsyklon,
Dnepr, Zenit and Buran. During the temporary lapse of the
States' Space Shuttle program
after the Columbia Disaster
in 2003 it played an essential role in operating and resupplying of
the International Space
Station with Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.
Downrange from the launchpad, spent launch equipment is dropped
directly on the ground where it is salvaged by the workers and by
the local population.
List of launchpads
Although Baikonur has always been known around the world as the
launch site of Russia's 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 the last
Russian military personnel would be removed from the Baikonur
facility by 2007. However, on Oct. 22 2008 an SS-19 Stiletto
missile was test fired from Baikonur,
indicating this may not be the case.
On December 22, 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.
The site is
scheduled to be completed in 2009.This will allow launches with a
payload of 26 tons to low earth
, compared to 20 tons using the Proton
system. An additional benefit will be
that the Angara uses kerosene and oxygen as fuel, which is less
hazardous to the environment than the toxic fuels used by older
boosters. The total expenditure on the Kazakhstani side will be
$223 million over 19 years.
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