Above: A scale model demonstrating unique design of Proton's launch pad.
UR-500 (Proton) rocket infrastructure overview:
In 1962, the Soviet government approved a program of construction of the launch complex for the UR-500 (Proton) rocket. All facilities of the launch complex were to be located on the western edge of the NIPP-5 test range, now known as Baikonur Cosmodrome. The original Proton complex included only two launch pads, but a total of four launch pads have been built here eventually. Baikonur has always remained the only location from which Protons could be launched.
The 4th Test Directorate at the NIIP-5 test range was responsible for the processing of the Proton rocket. (100) The people who serve Proton rockets and some of its payloads usually live in the residential area on the west wing of Baikonur, known as Site 95 (Ploshadka 95 in Russian). Most pre-launch processing facilities for the rocket were built at Site 92. The same site was also home of the extensive processing infrastructure for the Almaz space station program, completed around 1971. (78)
A pair of dual-pad Proton launch complexes occupy Site 81 and Site 200. An underground bunker, with the launch control equipment was located at Site 83. A backup command post was deployed at Site 82.
The original fueling station designated 11G11 was built at Site 91 around 1965. The facility was intended to support hazardous operations with Proton's payloads, such as loading toxic and highly flammable propellants and pressurized gases onboard spacecraft and upper stages. In 1976, a 11G141 fueling station was completed at Site 91A. It was originally designed for 500 fueling cycles during a 10-year operation. After exceeding its projected life span, the facility had to be finally deactivated in 1992, restricting all spacecraft fueling operations in Baikonur to the 11G12 station at Site 31. During almost a decade-long repairs at Site 91A, the main building of the fueling station was renovated and upgraded with a "clean room" processing area and new hardware. In November 2011, the 11G141 facility was reintroduced back into service, opening its doors to the fueling of the Briz-M upper stage in March 2012.
Building 92A-50: The most payloads destined to ride Proton rockets are processed in the Building 92A-50 in Area 92. This is the one of the most sophisticated facilities in Baikonur founded in the beginning of the 1970's and completed in 1981. (70 p. 235) The overall testing as well as fueling and pneumatic pressurization of the spacecraft can be conducted in the dedicated work places inside the building. Also inside this facility, the satellites are integrated with the upper (fourth) stage of the Proton rocket and covered with the payload fairing. By 2011, the facility 92A-50 was refurbished enabling parallel processing of two satellites.
Building 92-1: Building 92-1, which is around 120 meters long and 50 meters wide, is used to assemble Proton launchers in horizontal position. Segments of the rocket arrive into the building by rail from Khrunichev production plant in Moscow. Up to four launchers can be processed in the building simultaneously.
The payload, known by Russian abbreviation KGCh, which stands for (Space Head Section), loaded with propellant and packed under its fairing and, if necessary, upper (fourth) stage, is delivered to Building 92-1 by rail for integration and testing with the first three stages of the rocket.
This is the last step in Proton integration, after which the entire complex is loaded by cranes on the flat railroad transporter and it is ready for rollout to the launch pad.
The main residential area, which provides housing for the personnel is often referred to as "Proton city" by foreign visitors and officially known as Site 95.
Along with military barracks and auxiliary infrastructure, the area includes hotels Kometa, Fili and Polyot for visitors and personnel temporary working at the site. In the mid-1990s, the Khrunichev enterprise, which conducted its commercial launch campaigns from the area, invested into renovation of the facilities at Site 95.
The two original launch pads -- No. 23 and No. 24 -- for the Proton rocket are located at Site 81 also known as Facility (Ob'ekt in Russian) Number 333. Two pads are separated by a distance of about 600 meters.
Pad No. 24 is the oldest launch facility for Proton, which hosted the first launch of the rocket in 1965. The pad had been under renovation since 1979 for almost two decades, and no launches took place here until 1999. Yet, in the first decade of the 20th century it became the most extensively used launch pad for the Proton rocket. Along with the Pad No. 39, Pad No. 24 was converted for the launches of the Proton-M rocket, however payloads developed by ISS Reshetnev could only be launched from Pad No. 24 until at least 2014. During the refurbishment of Pad No. 39 in 2012, industry sources reported a backlog of Proton-M missions competing for the use of Pad 24.
Pad No. 23 was completed in 1966 and it was used for the first time in 1967. The pad was taken out of service for renovations at the end of the 1970s and it remained officially under repair for almost a decade. Proton-K rockets were launched from Pad No. 23 until December 2004, however funding to convert the facility for Proton-M rocket had not been provided.
When most space launch complexes in Baikonur were transferred under civilian control at the end of the 1990s, Site 81 remained under jurisdiction of the Strategic Missile Forces. It was finally transferred under control of KBOM design bureau at the beginning of 2006. The organization initiated a number of upgrades at the site, including the installation of the new test and monitoring equipment.
On Feb. 1, 2011, around 07:00 in the morning, one of the cables on a launch pad at Site 81 apparently caught fire, which required around 30 minutes to suppress, fortunately causing no injuries.
During the 1970's two more launch complexes -- No. 39 and No. 40 -- for Proton rockets were under development in Baikonur. The design of the facility started in 1970 and the actual construction was initiated in 1972. (70 p. 235) The pads are also known as "Ob'ekt" (Facility) 548 and located at "Ploshadka" (Site) 200, east of the original pads. Pad No. 40 entered service in 1977 and Pad No. 39 became operational in 1980.
In December 1984, the Soviet television released first pictures of the Proton rocket lifting off from Site 200, when launching Vega planetary probes toward Venus.
In 1998, both pads in Area 200 were transferred under civilian control of the Russian Space Agency. As of beginning of the year 2000, only Pad No. 39 remained operational at Site 200, while Pad No. 40 was officially under repair since 1991.
Pad No. 39 was modified to launch Proton-M rocket, along with Pad No. 24, however Pad No. 39 was not expected to be compatible with payloads developed by ISS Reshetnev until at least 2014. The facility was reported to be under refurbishment in 2012.
During 2004, Russian and Kazakh officials discussed the possibility of building a launch complex for the Angara rocket in Baikonur. A formal agreement between two governments on the construction of the complex dubbed Baiterek was reached on December 22, 2004. The complex would use the former launch pad for the Proton rocket at Site 200.
Launch pad operations
All four pads feature similar design. The railroad transporter with the rocket in horizontal position moves with its front chassis on top of the stationary erector of the launch pad. The erector then rotates 90 degrees and installs the rocket together with its railway transporter and its front chassis vertically onto the launch platform. The rear chassis of the transporter remains on the railway.
The transporter's fixtures holding the rocket then released and the erector rotates down into its storage position below the pad level lowering the transporter back on the rail tracks.
The service tower then moves into position on its own rail tracks completely enveloping the rocket. It allows servicing the rocket during last five days before launch. Service tower rolls away to a distance of about 340 meters from the rocket around 5-6 hours before launch.
All umbilical devices are connected to the Proton rocket at the time of the launch through the special interface at the bottom of the rocket. During the first second of the launch the umbilical cables trail the moving rocket and then separate and fall into a special niche in the launch pad. A protective cover immediately closes over the niche.
During 2004, Russian and Kazakh officials discussed the possibility of building a launch complex for the Angara rocket in Baikonur. A formal agreement between two governments on the construction of the complex dubbed Baiterek was reached on December 22, 2004. According to one proposal, the complex would use Site 200's launch Pad No. 40 for the Proton rocket, which had stayed abandoned and decrepit at the turn of the 21st century. A ceremonial marker, commemorating the foundation of the Baiterek complex was installed at Pad No. 40, however for several years, little else was going on there.
According to unofficial reports, in November 2006, representatives of Khrunichev enterprise and Kazakh officials were planning to conduct surveillance of a new flight path for the Angara-A5 launcher from Baikonur, which would enable it to reach orbits with inclination 48 degrees toward the Equator. Such trajectory would be almost ideal in terms of delivering maximum cargo possible from Baikonur. This flight path was avoided in the previous half a century of Baikonur's existence, since it would take the rocket over the Chinese territory. It was unclear, if this political issue was resolved in case of the Baiterek project.
During his visit to Baikonur in May 2007, head of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov told reporters that the Khrunichev enterprise was directed to complete a general draft-schedule of the Baiterek complex development and to start its implementation in the second quarter of 2008.
On April 18, 2008, key contractors in the development of the Baiterek complex, including Khrunichev met with local community leaders and other officials in Kzyl Orda, a regional center near Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan Today news agency reported. Two sides discussed projected environmental impact of the Baiterek facility on the surrounding area and on drop zones downrange from the launch site. Space officials assured local representatives that replacement of the Proton rocket with the Angara launcher would improve ecological situation in the region. They also promised to keep all development work at the site transparent to the general public. The head of the Baiterek joint venture, Aleksandr Taryanik, confirmed that the "real implementation" of the Baiterek project would start in 2008.
Writing and photography by Anatoly Zak
Last update: July 8, 2012
All rights reserved
All images copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
The Proton rocket inside processing building 92-1.
The rollout of the Proton rocket from building 92-1.
The Proton rocket arrives to Site 81.
The Proton rocket is installed on the launch pad.
The Proton reaches vertical position on the launch pad.
The launch pad erector is lowered in stored position after the installation of the Proton rocket on the pad.
The service tower moves into position around the Proton rocket after it has been installed on the launch pad.
Building 92A-50 in Area 92 of Baikonur.
During 2004, Russian and Kazakh officials discussed the possibility of building a launch complex for the Angara rocket in Baikonur. According to one proposal, the complex would use the former launch pad for the Proton rocket at Site 200.