During the Soviet period, official guests and rare journalists, who would be allowed to watch manned space launches in Baikonur, would notice giant metal-like structures towering in the steppe, northwest from the original Gagarin's launch pad. The camera crews, televising the Soyuz launches were not be allowed to turn their camcorders in that direction. However, the US spy satellites long ago revealed to the Western analysts -- those structures were the launch pads for the Soviet moon booster, later refurbished for the Soviet shuttle program.
Designated Site 110, this complex includes two launch pads separated by a distance of 500 meters and dozens of support buildings covering an area of 10 square kilometers. Both launch pads would be serviced by a unified complex of protected facilities.
Four ill-fated launches of the N1 moon rocket and the first mission of the Buran orbiter originated from Site 110.
Energia-Buran launch pad
In the course of refurbishment of the launch pads from the N-1 rocket to Energia-Buran system, the developers faced a number of serious challenges. One issue was the compatibility of the asymmetrical Energia's propulsion system with a three-directional design of the flame trenches under launch pads of the N1 rocket.
Developers conducted a highly precise analysis of gas dynamics of the Energia's propulsion system in order to adapt the pads for the new vehicle.
The new propellant storage center similar to the one at Site 250 was built at Site 110 as well. The facility was designed to receive, store and provide loading of the super-cold liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen and nitrogen onboard the launch vehicle.
Rotating service towers also went through considerable upgrades. Finally, stationary fueling and emergency escape towers were added to the pads.
The control and test equipment located on five floors beneath the launch pad was completely replaced.
N-1 moon rocket launch log:
February 21, 1969: N1-L3 launch (#3L) Failed at T+68.7 seconds.
July 3, 1969: N1-L3 launch (#5L) Failed at launch.
June 27, 1971: N1-L3 launch (#6L) Failed at T+50.1 seconds.
November 23, 1972: N1-L3 launch (#7L) Failed at T+107 seconds.
Energia launch log:
May 15, 1987, 21:30 Moscow Time, Site 250: The first Energia super booster (Number 6SL) is launched from Site 251 in Baikonur carrying a Polyus military payload. The rocket performed flawlessly, however, Polyus orbital maneuvering system fired in the opposite direction due to the control system problem causing the payload to fall into the ocean.
November 15, 1988: 06:00:02 Moscow Time, Site 110 left: The Energia super booster carrying unmanned Buran reusable orbiter blasted off from Baikonur. 206 minutes or two orbits later, the Buran automatically landed at the Yubileiniy airfield at Site 251 in Baikonur.
Development scale models of the Energia-Buran launch complex at Site 110. Energia-Buran system is shown in horizontal position rolling to the pad on the TUA 17T12 transport and installation device developed at TsKB TM design bureau. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak
The Energia-Buran sits on the "left" launch pad at Site 110. View from the north. Credit: RKK Energia
Two towers flank the "left" launch pad at Site 110, from which Energia-Buran blasted off in November 1988. An emergency escape tunnel from the 17T54 access tower can be seen leading to the underground bunker on the right. On the left is a 17G81 fueling tower. View from the south. Both structures were developed at TsKB TM design bureau. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
A giant service tower 17T13 rotates around a circular base on the left of the photo to give access to the Energia-Buran from the "back". This tower was twice as high when it serviced the N-1 moon rocket. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
Escape tunnels on the mockup of the Energia-Buran access tower. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak
A scale model of the launch pad for the Energia-Buran system. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak