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History of Baikonur

The Baikonur Cosmodrome, also called Tyuratam, is the world's first and largest operational space launch facility. It is located in the desert steppes of Kazakhstan, about 200 kilometers  east of the Aral Sea, north of the Syr 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 Forces. 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 ambitious space program. Under the current Russian space program, Baikonur remains a busy space port, with numerous commercial, military and scientific missions being launched annually.

Baikonur facilities

According to the official data released at the beginning of the 1990s, the Baikonur Cosmodrome had 11 assembly buildings and nine launch complexes with 15 launch pads for space boosters. The cosmodrome also featured:

  • An oxygen and nitrogen-producing plant
  • 3 fueling facilities (only one was active in mid-1990s)
  • A power station
  • 600 energy-converting stations
  • 92 communication sites
  • 2 airports
  • 470 kilometers of railways
  • 1,281 kilometers of automobile roads
  • 6,610 kilometers of communication lines
  • 360 kilometers of pipelines
  • 1,240 kilometers of waterlines
  • 430 kilometers of sewer lines

The entire center covered 6,717 square kilometers and extended 75 kilometers from north to south and 90 kilometers from east to west. The facility consumed 600 million kilowatt/hour of electric power annually.

Baikonur's regions

A test range in Baikonur is traditionally subdivided into three regions, each led by a major player in the Soviet rocketry: Sergei Korolev, Mikhail Yangel and Vladimir Chelomei:

Central region (Korolev area)

A very first launch complex of the space center was built for the R-7 ICBM, developed at Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau. When Baikonur's test facilities started sprawling east and west from the original launch complex, this region became known as Korolev's area. After a relatively short life as a test complex, the R-7 facilities located in the central region of the range were converted into space launch sites. However, before OKB-1 completely switched to the development of space technology, a Korolev-designed R-9 ICBM was tested at Site 51, also located in the central region. The 1st Test Directorate based in the central region was responsible for processing of both -- the R-7 and R-9 rockets. After death of its first chief, Evgeni Ostashev, the 1st Directorate was led by Anatoli Kirillov. After Kirillov's promotion in 1967, his former deputy Vladimir Patrushev became the chief of the directorate. In his turn, Patrushev was replaced by his deputy, Vladimir Bululukov in 1975. (78) The Korolev area grew enormously in 1960s and 1970s, when manned lunar program and later Energia-Buran programs were underway.

Right flank (Yangel area)

The eastern section of Baikonur Cosmodrome, or so-called "right flank," was also known as "Yangel area." Since 1960, several generations of ballistic missiles and space launchers developed by Mikhail Yangel's design bureau had been tested here. Yangel's original ICBM -- R-16 -- was followed by different versions of R-36, MR-UR-100, R-36M and R-36M2 ballistic missiles. Initial tests of the Cosmos-1 booster and all launches of the Zenit-2 rocket were also conducted from the launch pads on the "right flank" of Baikonur.

Left flank (Chelomei area)

The west side of Baikonur Cosmodrome, or so-called "left flank," also known as "Chelomei area." Since beginning of the 1960s, several generations of ballistic missiles and space launchers developed by Vladimir Chelomei's OKB-52 design bureau had been tested here: including UR-200 and several generations of UR-100 ICBM. The launch pads and processing facilities for OKB-52-designed Proton rocket were also located on the left flank. The 4th Test Directorate of the range was responsible for the processing of the Proton rocket.

Launch complex for the R-7 missile and the Soyuz launcher

 The very first launch complex founded in 1955 in Tyuratam included a single launch pad at Site 1 and the assembly and processing buildings at Site 2 and 2B. The original R-7 rocket blasted off from Site 1 in May 1957. The world's first artificial satellite was launched from the same pad on October 4, 1957. Following the launch of Vostok-1 in 1961, the Site 1 was nicknamed Gagarin's pad. The complex has remained operational at the turn of the 21st century, after hosting around 400 launches. The second launch pad for R-7-based rockets has been operating at Site 31 since 1960.                       

Launch facilities for R-16 ICBM and Cosmos-1 launcher

Around November 1959, the construction of the first launch pads for the R-16 missile started at Site 41. The facility included two surface pads designated PU-3 (Puskovaya Ustanovka) and PU-4. The concrete works started here on December 5, 1959, and according to the construction schedule signed on December 17, 1959, the pads were expected to be ready by September 1960. The first launch attempt took place here in October 1960, however it ended in a worst disaster in the history of rocketry. Site 41 was later restored and the launches of the R-16 ICBM resumed in 1961. One of two pads at Site 41 was later converted in Voskhod complex for the lightweight Cosmos-1 and Cosmos-3 launchers, which flew from here between 1964 and 1968. 


Launch facilities for R-9 ICBM

In the 1960s, both surface and underground pads were built in Tyuratam for Korolev's R-9 ICBM. The original experimental launch complex for the R-9 ICBM was built just a few hundred meters from the Gagarin's pad. A deadly accident took place in one of the R-9 silos in 1963, exactly three years after the R-16 disaster.                        

Launch complex for UR-200 ICBM and Tsyklon-2 launcher

A two-pad launch complex at Site 90 on the western edge of Baikonur was orginally built to test the UR-200 missile. It flew nine missions from the site in 1963 and 1964, before the program was canceled. By 1967, Site 90 was refurbished for the Tsyklon-2 launcher, delivering anti-satellite weapons and nuclear-powered spy satellites for the Soviet navy. The first launch of the Tsyklon-2 rocket from the site, took place on October 27, 1967. The facility remained operational at the beginning of the 21st century. 


Launch facilities for R-36 ICBM

The construction of the surface pad for the R-36 (8K67) ICBM was officially approved in June 1962 and the actual construction started in August 1962 at Site 67. Since 1964, the NIIP-5 test range in Tyuratam was responsible for testing of the R-36-O ballistic missiles, whose warheads would reach the orbit on its way to the target. After test launches of orbital rockets from surface and underground launch pads had been completed in 1969, they were operationally deployed in numerous silos around Tyuratam. This most exotic weapon of the Cold War was scrapped in mid-1980s.                         

Proton launch complex

Total four launch pads and extensive support infrastructure was built in Tyuratam for the Proton launcher. Baikonur Cosmodrome is the only site from where the Proton can be launched. The original two pads at Site 81 were followed by two additional pads at Site 200. All of them were located on the "left flank" of Baikonur. The entire town, now often called "Proton city," with its own processing and residential area grew up few kilometers southwest from the pads.      


Launch facilities for UR-100 ICBM and Rockot launcher

On April 19, 1965, the first compact ICBM UR-100 blasted off from surface pad at Site 130 of the NIIP-5 test range. In the following years multiple silos for the UR-100 and its successors were built on the "left flank" of the test range. Since 1990s, these facilities have been used for test launches of the Rockot booster, which derived from UR-100NU ICBM.                              

Launch facilities for R-36M ICBM

A heavy multi-warhead R-36M missile, known in the West as "Satan," succeeded the venerable R-36. During the 1970s and 1980s, the R-36M flew numerous missions from Tyuratam. With the end of the Cold War, the R-36M became a base for the Dnepr launch vehicle, which made three successful launches from a silo complex at Site 109. 

Launch facilities for the N1 moon rocket and for Energia-Buran

Since 1965, the cyclopean launch complex for the N-1 moon rocket was under construction in Tyuratam. In 1969-1972, four ill-fated N-1 boosters blasted off from Tyuratam, resulting in cancellation of the program in 1974. The remaining launch facilities for the N-1 rocket were rebuilt for the new Energia-Buran system with the addition of some monumental infrastructure, including a brand-new processing building, a full-scale test-firing stand, a "skyscraper" for vertical vibration tests and a super-long landing strip for the Buran orbiter.  


Zenit launch complex

The Zenit-2 rocket, the Russia's most advanced space booster had two launch pads completed in 1980s at Site 45. One of the pads was practically demolished in the launch failure in 1990.


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