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Above: A satellite image showing Site 43 in Plesetsk with two launch pads (top). Credit: Google Earth
A launch pad for the R-7-based launch vehicles in Plesetsk.
Previous chapter: Site 16
A dual launch facility completed original plans for the deployment of R-7 ICBMs in Plesetsk, brining a total of number of pads for the missile to four and counting two pads in Tyuratam to six. Several other remote sites throughout the USSR were selected for the deployment of R-7, but had never been developed. In the meantime, the very last launch pad built for the R-7 missile in Plesetsk, would stand to see the latest incarnations of the R-7 rocket -- Soyuz-2 and Soyuz-1.
From March 22, 1968 to July 8, 1970, Pads No. 3 and No. 4 were modified to enable launches of Zenit-2M, Zenit-4, Zenit-4M and Meteor satellites.
In the meantime, two R-7A missiles were expected to be fired from Pad No. 3 in September 1969 during the Berkut exercise, however these plans were ultimately dropped.
From March 22 to July 8, 1970, the facility was under renovations with launches resuming here on Feb. 18, 1970. The first Zenit-based spacecraft was launched from here on May 17, 1972. From September 1972 to May 1973, Pad No. 3 was upgraded to enable launches of Soyuz-U and Molniya-M rockets with Yantar reconnaissance satellites and Molniya communications satellites.
In 1976, the facility was upgraded for operations with Vostok-2M rocket and launches of Meteor satellites. After a series of repairs started on April 15, 1983, the launches from Pad No. 3 resumed on Dec. 26, 1986, however on June 18, 1987, the facility was damaged again in a botched launch of the Soyuz rocket.
In June 2013, the official publication of the Ministry of Defense promised the start of refurbishment of the launch pad for missions of the Soyuz-2-1a and Soyuz-2-1b rockets in the first half of 2014. (654)
On July 25, 1967, Pad No. 4 hosted its first actual launch of the R-7 ballistic missile, which followed a suborbital trajectory to the Kamchatka Peninsula.
The first space rocket lifted off from Pad No. 4 on Dec. 3, 1969, carrying a Zenit-type reconnaissance satellite, which successfully entered orbit under an official name of Kosmos-313.
From February 1975 to September 1976, Pad No. 4 and associated infrastructure was upgraded to support launches of Yantar reconnaissance satellites.
On March 18, 1980, during fueling process of the Vostok-2M launcher with the Tselina electronic intelligence satellite at Pad No. 4, while dozens of military technicians worked on the pad, the launcher exploded, killing 48 people. A monument commemorating the tragedy was unveiled nearby on July 15, 1999 and on December 11 of the same year, the Russian government commission formally rehabilitated members of the launch team, who were initially blamed for the accident.
In the wake of the deadly accident, Pad No. 4 was shot down for three years of repairs and fire-safety upgrades. A training rocket was rolled out to the site for fitting tests on Dec. 20-23, 1982. The first post-accident launch from the site took place on April 8, 1983.
Tests were officially concluded with the resumption of launches from the site on March 21, 1984. Still, a serious accident at Pad No. 4 took place on June 27, 1988, when a Soyuz launcher crashed just 100 meters from the pad, damaging the facility.
Since the beginning of the 1990's, Pad No. 4 (a.k.a. 17P32-4 or SK-4) at Site 43 has been chosen for launches of the upgraded Rus (Soyuz-2) booster, however severe financial problems have delayed the actual construction until 2001. Associated processing facilities were upgraded for handling the Fregat upper stage employed on the Soyuz-2 rocket. On May 12 of the same year, the military unit, which serviced the facility was formally reassigned from Strategic Missile Forces, RVSN, to the Space Forces.
The first Soyuz-2 was finally launched from the launch facility renamed 17P32-S4 in 2004. The same pad was also adopted for the Soyuz-2-1v (Soyuz-1) rocket, which was rolled to the facility for the first time in 2012. Soyuz-2-1v successfully lifted off for the first time on Dec. 28, 2013 from Pad No. 4.
Next chapter: Angara launch facility
Launch facilities for space vehicles based on the R-7 ballistic missile:
Page author: Anatoly Zak
Last update: December 31, 2013
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