The cosmodrome is approximately7,360 square km. in area near the Syr Darya river in the Kyzl-Orda Oblast in Kazakstan,380 km. southwest of the old city of Baykonur. It is specifically located near the old village of Tyuratam and the city of Zarya, which was renamed Leninsk in 1958, and renamed Baykonur in 1996.
U-2 photograph of the first SS-6 launch pad at Baykonur.
Credit: US Central Intelligence Agency
It seems that the city of space explorers was initially called "Tashkent-5O,". Construction of the first launch complex at Baykonur began January 12, 1955. Builders also referred to the cosmodrome as Zvezdograd during the construction. Leninsk was built solely to support the cosmodrome, its population reached 50,000 by 1975, and by 1990 reached about 75,000. In fact, there was never any thought to building a city in the beginning. It was thought that only military personnel would serve at Baykonur and then in short periods only. But, people began to sign on for repeated tours and their families came to stay, some working 20 years on temporary duty assigments. Slowly over the years a city developed subsiding off the militaries waste and handouts. Consiqnently, a city with two of everything developed, a military and civilian (i.e. Russian and Kazak) department for everything from the Communist Party to two municipal services departments. Sometimes the cities drinking water is still pumped out of the Syr Darya river. Foreign visitors thought that the disentegrating concret road leading to the Cosmodrome was a back road taken to avoid secret areas, but the truth was that it was the main road into the center.
The residential area of the center includes cosmonaut training facilities, laboratories, medical complex, sports center and the Cosmonaut hotel where cosmonauts used to recover after missions for up to 15 days. The center museum also includes the cottages of Korolev and the house where the origional cosmonauts stayed before a flight.
Approval for the construction of the Baykonur Cosmodrome was given when the development of the SS-6 ICBM was approved in 1954.Decree of the USSR Council of Ministers No 292-181 designated the place and date of the beginning of construction of what was then called Test Area No 5. The Soviet requirements for the launch site were that it allow for the rocket to fly over Soviet territory during launch to enable tracking and control by ground stations. This also helped in keeping the launches hidden from those outside the USSR since the ICBM tests would also end in the far Eastern USSR. The site also had to be on or near rail lines to allow for easy shipment of building materials, people, equipment and not least of all rocket stages. One of the best locations was in the south central USSR, east of the Aral Sea. The site was once an abandoned open pit copper mine and possibly a gulag labor camp from the 1930's. The space center would encompass around 1560 square km. by 1989. The area was known as a polygon, or test range similar to a artillery firing range.
Construction of the first building started May 5, 1955, and the first assembly building was begun in June. In August, 1955, the first launch pad was begun, and on April 4, 1956, the first concrete in the flame trench was poured. Construction work sometimes continued 24 hours a day in order to meet schedules. In August 1956, assembly of the first launch pad begun. This was completed in December 1956, and after that an SS-6 test article was used to test the ground support equipment. The first SS-6 was rolled out to the pad after two months of checkout on May 5, 1957. The cosmodrome was officially opened with the first launch of an SS-6 ICBM on May 15. The rocket failed after 50 seconds of flight. After more failures, the first successful flight from Baykonur was on August 3, 1957. The rocket flew to a target area in the Kamchatke peninsula.
At the time of the bases development, the name Baykonur was used to confuse western intelligence. But, the base was discovered by U-2 pilots flying from a base in Pakistan in the summer of 1957. The planes followed railway lines which lead to Baykonur discovering it before the base was made public.
The Soviets explained to American ASTP astronauts that the area was referred to as Baykonur (probably because it was the only major city near by the cosmodrome when it was built, and the Soviets claimed that the entire region was referred to as Baykonur during tours of ASTP personnel). The center also has preperation and launch control centers (TsUPP) which supervise the launch and hand over to the main flight control centers. All flights are also controlled from Baykonur until the boosters final stage is separated from the spacecraft.
Several thousand people worked at the space center in the 1970s. To the northeast, near Arkalyk, is the spacecraft recovery zone where most manned and military reconnaissance flights landed up to 1996.
Far to the east is a nuclear and beam weapon test area at the Sary Shagan Missile Test Center which develops Anti-Ballistic Missile technologies. To the northeast around the center are impact zones where booster stages fall (some are recovered for their metals and parts). Baykonur also includes an area which is a large industrial complex for test, research, development and assembly of boosters. Most rocket stages are delivered by rail, but due to their size the Energia booster was shipped to the cosmodrome in sections by the modified Bison carrier aircraft, or an An-255 for final assembly on site.
The nearby Leninsk airfield (several km from the city) is the base for a fleet of IL-18 range support aircraft and helicopters.
A US spy satellite photo of the 2 N-1 moon rocket launch pads.
The Baykonur Cosmodrome can be compared with the Kennedy Space Center in the US, except that Baykonur is much larger. In the middle 1970s there were at least 80 operational launch pads at the Cosmodrome. When U.S. astronauts visited the center in preparations for ASTP, they were shown the Soyuz launch facilities but not the whole center. As the astronauts were flown back to Moscow one evening, they could see lights on launch pads and related complexes for more than 15 minutes.
Baykonur is also used to launch communication satellites and planetary missions and some military satellites. Inclination of the missions varies from 50° to 98°. Baykonur also tested dozens of ICBM's a year un to the 1990's which were targeted to the Kamchatka peninsula, but most military related work is done at the Plesetsk cosmodrome.
Around April of 1988, a government decision was made to improve living condition of Leninsk, but work progressed slowly over the next 1.5 years because of labor shortages. Average saleries at the cosmodrome in 1989 were 29 to 159 percent above the average Soviet salary. Herds of wild horses and desert camels are allowed to roam the vast range of the cosmodrome.
Some security procedures for the base were explained...
"Korolev was called 'Scorpion-4.' When Baikonur was threatened by foreign agents, the General Staff quickly warned the appropriate services of the test site with coded signals. The code 'Scorpion-l' meant that foreigners were travelling on the railroad in the region of the test site, they could get the bearings of working radio stations and determine the disposition and number of launch pads. The signal 'Scorpion-2' meant scouts in civil aviation aircraft were flying by. 'Scorpion-3' indi- cated other more serious actions of foreign scouts. When any of these signals were given life at Baikonur died down for a few minutes..."
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Moscow ARGUMENTY I FAKTY, No 15, Apr 91 p 6, by I. Kabak: "The Cosmodrome Without the Halo: Baykonur Covers 7,360 Square Kilometer^S", FBIS-UPS-91-004, 8/20/91
Moscow KRASNAYA ZVEZDA in Russian 31Aug91 p4, by KRASNAYA ZVEZDA correspondent Colonel A. Andryushkov, cosmonaut candidate from the USSR Union of Journalists, from the Baykonur Cosmo- drome, under the rubric "A Few Pages of a Space Diary": "The 'Bivni' of Baykonur", FBIS USP-91-007, 11/22/91
Moscow NEZA VISIMA YA GAZETA, 25 Sep 91 p6, by Natalya Dvoynishnikova: "Sovereign Republics Have Not Yet Been Determined- How Can Space Related Properties Be Divided: The Borders of the Baykonyr Space Vehicle Launching Site Are Somewhere in the Ocean", FBIS USP-91-007, 11/22/91
Moscow IZVESTIYA in Russian 19 Oct 91 Union Edition p 10, FBIS USP-91-007, 11/22/91