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Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

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Байконур, Казахстан
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Baikonur Cosmodrome (Russian: Космодро́м Байкону́р Kosmodrom Baykonur; Kazakh: Байқоңыр ғарыш айлағы Bayqoñır ğarış aylağı) is a spaceport located in southern Kazakhstan. It is the world's first and largest operational space launch facility. 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. Currently leased by the Kazakh Government to Russia until 2050, the spaceport 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. All manned Russian spaceflights are launched from Baikonur.

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


Soviet era

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), 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. 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 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. 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. Heptyl, or UDMH, a 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." 


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.

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

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.

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.


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.


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